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Orders Of The Day

Volume 201: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1992

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Coal Industry Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

No amendments on consideration. Third Reading what day?

4.53 pm

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to a certain aspect of the new clauses that were placed on the Amendment Paper today, and also seek your advice? I am in no way questioning Mr. Speaker's ruling that none of the new clauses will be called.

It will not have escaped the attention of the House that virtually all the new clauses are in the name of various Liberal Members, and also that, when the Bill was in Committee, the only Liberal member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who has just arrived, attended not one sitting of the Committee. A number of Government Members and a number of hon. Members representing the Labour 'party desperately wanted to serve on the Committee and could not do so because the place was taken by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. I regard that as a positive insult to the House; and the insult seems to have been aggravated today by the new clauses on the Amendment Paper.

Order. It is very observant of the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) to notice that no Liberal Members were present in the Committee, especially as he was not a member of the Committee himself, but I have to tell him that there has been no breach of the Standing Orders. I hope that we can now get on with the Bill.

Order. The matter has been dealt with. No further point of order arise.

On another point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. As a member of the Standing Committee, I can confirm that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) did not attend.

Order. This is an abuse of the House. The point of order has been dealt with.

Order. No further points of order arise. The matter has been dealt with and there has been no breach of Standing Orders.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance.

Is it a new point of order and not further to the original point of order?

I was the Whip responsible for organising the Opposition membership of the Committee. We left a place for a minority group representative and one was appointed, but he never attended the sittings of the Committee.

Hon. Members are now going round in circles. The Minister had better move the Third Reading.

4.57 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has been extensively discussed and has passed through all its stages so far without amendment. It is a necessary measure for the achievement of a productive industry whose future is secured by the sale of coal to willing buyers. We want the largest possible economic coal industry that the market can support.

It has to be recognised, however, that fundamental changes in the nation's fuel requirements are reducing overall demand for coal, and indeed this process has been going on for many years under successive Governments. Coal faces increasing competition from other fuels, in the industrial market, in the domestic market and in power generation. The coal industry also needs further to increase its productivity, building on the substantial and impressive improvements of recent years.

Heavy restructuring has been required, as the House knows. Colliery closures and substantial job losses are involved. This is why clause 1 of the Bill extends the overall limit on the payment of restructuring grant by a further £1·5 billion and makes it available for a further three years beyond the original time limit.

The money goes predominantly towards redundancy costs, enabling British Coal to offer lump sum payments to redundant coal miners which are perhaps the highest in any industry. Restructuring grant also supports the financing of transfers between collieries, retraining for jobs outside the industry and the work of British Coal Enterprise. The rate at which these payments will be made is a matter for British Coal, but by the end of this financial year some £1,340 million in restructuring grant will have been paid. The existing ceiling of £1,500 million is therefore likely to be reached in the coming year. That is why clause 1 is necessary.

Clause 2 provides the power to repeal the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1980. Hon. Members on both sides know that the 1908 Act is widely ignored in practice. That was conceded many times by Opposition Members in Committee. If the Act were to be enforced, which no one advocated in Committee, miners' pay would be cut and productivity reduced. Certain collieries with long journey times between shaft and coal face would be particularly hard hit and jobs would be threatened if the 1908 Act were enforced.

The Minister has just said that the 1908 Act is to be repealed. However, I understand that health and safety issues come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Employment and the Health and Safety Commission. Can the Minister tell the House why the Department of Energy has chosen to pilot the repeal of the 1908 Act when responsibility for it comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Employment, the Health and Safety Commission and, in turn, the Health and Safety Executive?

I will explain that very point.

The issue of safety has been raised on a number of occasions during our consideration of the Bill. It is the Government's view that safety is of paramount importance and we want recent and continuing improvements in safety standards to be maintained. We also strongly believe that repeal of the 1908 Act will not prejudice safety standards. I remind the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) that a number of other provisions on the statute book deal specifically with safety. He will be aware that the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 are directed specifically at safety.

It is true that the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission come under the general jurisdiction of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, and we have been careful to ascertain the opinion of those bodies. I assure the House that neither the HSE nor the HSC regards the 1908 Act as a relevant safety measure. They would prefer, as we do, to lean on specific safety legislation to safeguard the health and safety of workers underground.

The House is obliged to the Minister for his comments, but nothing he has said detracts from the point I made on Second Reading. I said then that on 7 November 1988, during this present Parliament, the then Secretary of State for Energy—the office remains even though the occupant has changed—gave categorical assurance that no changes to safety law would be made during this Parliament.

On Monday, on the television programme "Panorama", a Department of Employment Minister gave an assurance to millions of viewers that the Government would not act in such a way as to separate us from practices prevailing in Europe. The European regulations governing the number of hours worked in mines are different from those envisaged under the terms of clause 2. Therefore, the Government have a great deal of explaining to do.

On Second Reading the Minister said nothing when I reminded him of the assurance given on 7 November 1988. However, he must comment on the assurance given on television on Monday and explain why a Minister in another Department is offering a certain assurance while he is maintaining a different position today.

Let me repeat that I assure the House that the repeal of the 1908 Act will not diminish safety in British coal mines. That is not just my opinion, but that of the HSC and the HSE. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one third of the members of the HSC are drawn from the membership of trade unions.

It was conceded in Committee that the 1908 Act is disregarded in practice and has been for many years. It belongs to a past era when coal mining was a pick-and-shovel operation. That Act is irrelevant to the needs of a modern, highly mechanised industry. Mechanisation has been under way for many years, which is why successive Administrations have not enforced the 1908 Act. They would have enforced that Act had it been crucial to the health and safety of workers underground.

In Committee a number of hon. Members spoke about the timing of the repeal of the 1908 Act and when it will take effect. Let me restate the Government's position. The 1908 Act will not be repealed until either the proposed European Community directive on working time is implemented or, if agreement is not reached, an alternative United Kingdom measure is introduced. The repeal of the 1908 Act will not take effect on enactment of this legislation. Hon. Members are aware that, if the proposed European Community directive on working time is agreed, it will be necessary for British Coal to comply with it immediately. British Coal and the mining unions will not be able to negotiate sensibly on new and alternative working arrangements within the limits set by the directive until it is clear that the 1908 Act is to be repealed. British Coal has to give six months' notice before renegotiating working hours agreements.

Powers to repeal the Act are therefore needed well in advance of the date when the directive may be implemented, which may be as soon as 31 December 1992. If agreement on the directive is not reached by that time, the 1908 Act will not be repealed. If no agreement on the directive can be reached, alternative proposals for the coal industry will be brought before the House and repeal of the 1908 Act will take effect at that time.

The provisions of the 1908 Act will continue until such time as the Secretary of State shall implement its repeal. The Government have no plans to implement the repeal until either the European Community directive or an alternative measure is brought into force. There will therefore be no gap between the repeal of the 1908 Act and any replacement measure.

If the Minister found that British Coal was breaking the law of the land, would he insist that it should be prosecuted?

Not only British Coal, but all the workers concerned would be in breach of the 1908 Act. Any coal miner who works overtime in excess of the seven and a half hours provided for under the 1908 Act is technically in breach of that Act. That situation has obtained for many years, certainly during the currency of Labour Administrations, and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee accepted that that was so. The Committee therefore concluded that the Act was obsolete. If the Labour party believes that an Act that has not been enforced by any Government in recent years should nevertheless remain on the statute book, that is a bizarre position to adopt. Perhaps we can seek clarification on that during this debate.

I am aware that Opposition and Conservative Members wish to speak in the debate. I have set out the Government's position on this short Bill and shall seek to respond further later in the debate. At this stage, I commend the Bill to the House.

5.9 pm

The Coal Industry Bill is just as objectionable today as when it was first published on 1 November. It still represents a squalid effort to reduce safety in British mines and to use taxpayers' money to pave the way for coal privatisation. It is intended to fund the rundown of the coal industry from the existing 56 working pits to just 14, or possibly even 12, working collieries. It would also replace the limit on miners' hours with a general European directive that makes no special provision for the hazards of working underground.

Since the Bill was published and has been debated on Second reading and throughout its Committee stage, it has not been amended in any way, and we shall vote against it tonight, as we did before, because it represents a threat to safety.

Although the Bill is unamended, much relating to it has changed. For instance, the position in the coal industry has changed for the worse. Since the Bill was published, three collieries have closed in the Nottingham coalfield alone. The European Energy Commissioner has made it clear that he regards the Government's policy of running down the British coal industry as stupid and short-sighted. Furthermore, the commercial director of British Coal is in the process of being sacked for expressing similar views. The Maastricht summit has been and gone but, despite misleading briefings to the British press—in many cases accepted by them—the European directive on working time remains.

Clause 1 seeks to increase the restructuring grant, as it is strangely called, from £1,500 million to £3,000 million to fund the rundown of the industry. Yet again, the Government have refused to say why an increase on that scale is necessary. Fortunately, we are in a position to tell them that the money is needed because of the scale of the pit closures that they envisage, as set out in successive Rothschild reports. The first Rothschild report reduced to just 26 the number of collieries to be considered as candidates for survival. Of those, just six were to remain in the Nottingham coalfield.

When I said that on the news media in the east midlands, the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) responded that I did not know what I was talking about—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I said that the existing 15 collieries in Nottinghamshire would be reduced o six, and that nine would close over three years. Three have closed in just two months. Since the Bill was published, Creswell, Gedling and Sherwood have gone.

The second Rothschild report gave even worse figures. It revealed that Rothschild—the great expert in money but certainly not in coal—had whittled down the original 26 to 14 or possibly 12 collieries, in this case including just four in the Nottingham coalfield.

What is in the third Rothschild report, which the Government have received? Will the Secretary of State confirm that it says that the prospects for the industry are even more gloomy than the second report envisaged? Will the Secretary of State tell us, or is it to remain a squalid secret between Tory merchant bankers and money-grabbing Tory politicians, when and how many British miners they intend putting out of work? Apparently, for the time being at least, it is to remain secret—[Interruption.] I am sure that the Secretary of State will not guarantee that it will remain secret.

If such large sums are needed, it must be because closures on the scale that we predicted are envisaged. When an order for the smaller sums was being debated a couple of years ago, the then junior Minister said that, each year, the Government, to convince the Treasury that the money was necessary, had to produce rough and ready estimates of the number of pit closures.

Now that we are in the 10th month of the financial year, we are entitled to ask about the Government's estimates of the number of pit closures in this financial year. We do not expect the Government to look very far forward—they never do—but we are entitled to know what estimate they gave the Treasury for this year. How many closures does the Secretary of State expect there to be between now and the end of this financial year? I shall give way to the Secretary of State or the Minister of State if either of them is prepared to tell us——

I am not sure whether it is golden, but there is certainly silence.

One reason I ask that is that we are now becoming concerned about whether even the enormous sums concerned—£3,000 million, an addition under the Bill of £1,500 million—will be enough to cover closures on the scale envisaged. Those funds are used to finance redundancy and concessionary coal and to continue certain welfare payments. Obviously, those have first call on the money, but we are worried about whether enough money will be left to finance the training and job creation necessary if the money is to be spent properly in Britain's coalfields.

The position has changed, and the demand for jobs and training is growing. When pits were closed in the past decade, the miners who retired were considerably older than the ones who now face redundancy. Relatively speaking, they received a bigger lump sum, so they had more to get by on. Many were retiring early and, after two or three decades down a pit, who can blame a man for wanting to retire early? Even in their early or mid-50s, miners regarded redundancy as an opportunity to retire early. Some of them may have wanted to retrain or find another job, but many were satisfied with the possibility of a part-time job.

Requirements for retraining and new jobs within the coalfield communities were relatively limited, but the position has now substantially changed. The average miner today is 32 years old——

I am happy to be corrected. He is therefore much younger than the miners who were made redundant five or 10 years ago. They still receive their redundancy payment and there is still a requirement for them to receive concessionary coal and for other immediate benefits. However, is there enough money to give those young ex-miners the retraining and job opportunities that Parliament was told that they would receive when the funds were forthcoming? We doubt whether the sums are sufficiently substantial.

Young men cannot retire at the age of 33. The general level of settlement for redundancy payments is more than £30,000, which seems like a few bob, but I remind hon. Members who are paid at least £30,000 a year that the redundancy payment is a one-off, one-life payment. That sum is just as much as the chairmen of the East Midlands or Yorkshire electricity are paid every two months of every year, and it is not a vast amount.

There is no question of young miners who have been made redundant ceasing work altogether. Nor can there be any question of anyone suggesting that the redundancy pay will fund those former miners through a period of retraining and help them to obtain another job.

The hon. Gentleman has spent all his speech writing off the industry in a most depressing and negative way. Is he not aware that, only this morning, the chief executive of National Power, Mr. John Baker, told the Select Committee on Energy that he had no doubt that, in view of the enormous improvements in productivity resulting from the efforts of the work force that the hon. Gentleman is so anxious to write off, National Power will negotiate future contracts for coal, and British Coal has a secure market in power generation? Will not the hon. Gentleman allow a few minutes of his time to give credit to British Coal's achievements and the competitive position that it has won in order to compete in the power generation market?

The Select Committee might do well to summon the chairman of British Coal before it again and ask him why, when he made his feckless presentations to the two generating companies, he told them that he thought that the maximum economic output from the industry—including up to 20 million tonnes of opencast—was about 40 million tonnes. According to my simple arithmetic, that gives a figure of about 20 million tonnes of deep-mine coal. Anyone who knows that information must feel somewhat dismal about the industry's prospects as long as the present Secretary of State undermines the efforts of the only member of British Coal's board who want to maintain the British coal industry, rather than merely say, "Yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir," to the Secretary of State, which is apparently the function of the rest of the board members.

My hon. Friend will not be aware that the hon. Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) failed to say that the same Mr. Baker also informed the Select Committee this morning that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that, by the mid-1990s, 50 per cent. of coal would be imported.

I am glad that my hon. Friend gives us the benefit of a more balanced presentation of the evidence given to the Select Committee this morning. Anyone who considers the industry at present—I am sure that that includes the hon. Member for Sherwood—must feel gloomy about its prospects unless something is done[HON. MEMBERS: "Does Stewart feel that?"] I give him the benefit of the doubt.

In Committee, the Minister said that he would try to let us have some information, on a rough and ready basis, on where the money had been spent in the past. Having been in touch with his office this morning, I gather that that information may be rough but it is not ready.

Before my hon. Friend moves from the issue of redundancy, does he agree that British Coal is using blackmail in relation to pit closures? In the list of closures that my hon. Friend gave, he mentioned Sherwood pit in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). Last Sunday, the miners at that pit had a meeting and agreed on the closure of the pit before 1933, the date on which British Coal had decided. The miners decided that the pit should be closed early so that they would qualify for certain redundancy payments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) mentioned £30,000 redundancy payments, but the chappies working at Sherwood pit are not old enough and have not put in the necessary service to enjoy such payments. British Coal is using blackmail by saying that £10,000 will be knocked off redundancy payments, which is why those miners made the decision that the pit should be closed before 1993. If that is not blackmail, I do not know what is. The Secretary of State has gone—he could not care less.

I was about to come to the point that my hon. Friend made so eloquently in relation to experiences within the Nottingham coalfield. We believe that the existing clause is unsatisfactory, which is why we tried to amend it in Committee. We discovered that the Ministers, who are by nature conservative, have a constricted view of what the restructuring fund can be spent on.

The Bill supplements the funds that are made available under the Coal Industry Act 1987. Schedule 2 lists eligible expenditure, and we looked closely at item 6 of that list, which is:
"Expenditure on the promotion of new employment in coal mining areas".
The item does not say that the money cannot be spent on new employment related to the coal industry, but the Ministers have decided on that interpretation. We considered two examples of ways in which the restructuring fund could be spent to help the mining industry.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) drew attention to the closures of large coal mines in south Wales and the fact that, as a result, the anthracite field had virtually closed. He inquired about the possibility of the restructuring fund being invested in the opening of new, small, properly regulated and safe anthracite mines in the coalfield that would provide new mining jobs. The Minister replied that such a scheme would not qualify under the Act.

We raised another possibility. Go-ahead local authorities on the edge of some mining districts are presently considering the possibility of developing combined heat and power plants, one of the combinations being that of burning coal and refuse in small power stations. The financing of those projects is borderline, and with a little bit of money from here and there, it might be possible to develop them.

But the Minister ruled out the possibility of using any of the restructuring fund to help finance such sensible projects. Therefore, we believe that Ministers' interpretation of the Act is wrong. Even if their interpretation is correct, the obvious thing to do is to make changes through the Bill, which they refuse to do.

I remind the Minister that this grant is called restructuring grant. "Restructuring" suggests changing and adjusting something and helping it, in a sort of Darwinian way, to survive. The Government interpret restructuring in the coalfields to mean closures. The money is available only if it facilitates closing coal mines and putting miners out of work. So calling the grant restructuring grant does violence to the English language.

I have recently corresponded with the chief executive of British Coal Enterprise, asking for information about the number of jobs created in the Wakefield metropolitan district council area, where 40,000 jobs in mining have disappeared in the past few years. The only figure that BCE could give me was 100. If the Government really want to restructure so as to bring employment to redundant mineworkers, they must leave it to local authorities to join forces with private developers to create job opportunities.

In the past, we have been assured that there will be no compulsory redundancies. That promise has been broken. There will be mass compulsory redundancies if the Government do not follow the lead offered by my hon. Friend and show that they intend to bring other jobs to these areas. The promises made by the Government during the passage of this Bill and in previous statements will otherwise be shown to have been futile and misleading. I ask my hon. Friend to press home this point to the Government.

I entirely agree.

It turns out that the Minister can interpret restructuring grant to mean money that can be spent on helping to build a new factory or shop which might be heated by gas, or to build a hypermarket or filling station, but the Government believe that any money that helped to restructure the coal mining industry and extend its future would be out of order.

We have also expressed important doubts about the way in which everything to do with redundancy money, under this Bill and former legislation, is left to the discretion of British Coal. The people in charge there are unfit to exercise that discretion. We have pointed out that they use redundancy pay not only as an inducement; they invert its purpose and use its possible removal as a threat, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) said.

From time to time Ministers deny that this happens, but British Coal's recent public actions give the lie to Ministers' protestations that British Coal has behaved honourably. Recently, British Coal formally told mining unions that the £10,000 maximum top-up pay—it tails down to a great deal less than that for miners who have not worked in the industry for a long time—would cease with effect from 31 March this year. The sole object of that exercise was to bring pressure to bear on miners to accept the accelerated pit closure programme that the Government want to push through in the remaining months of this year.

They are hoping to close eight to 10 more pits in the remainder of January, February and March using the following procedure: announce a closure, then tell miners that, if they accept it now, they will receive up to £10,000 extra—but if they resist, £10,000 less. A miner would have to be a saint not to accept closure in those circumstances.

My hon. Friend is probably aware that, although the scheme ends on 31 March, British Coal has agreed that any colliery that accepts closure before that date will not be required to work 12 weeks' notice, which would inevitably take it beyond 31 March. So miners are being allowed to waive their period of notice to facilitate the ending of the scheme.

No other business in Britain which is in trouble can act like British Coal. The easiest and cheapest course of action for British Coal to take at any moment in relation to any colliery is to shut it down. No one else in British business can say without fear or favour that, if he shuts down a plant, it will inevitably cost him less and save him a lot of money. The scheme operated now is a positive incentive to close pits as soon as possible.

Is this not all due to the fact that we did not have an election last October or November? The Government are desperate because there will be less to privatise, if, God forbid, they are re-elected. This is a political ploy to pare the industry down as much as possible, and quickly. We should have had an election last October to settle the matter. The Government are burying the coal industry.

The only saving grace in this circumstance is that, as the weeks and months go by, the number of Conservative Members who will develop a more acute interest in redundancy pay grows and grows.

The hon. Gentleman said that miners who are offered an extra £10,000 to vote in favour of their pits closing would have to be saints not to accept. Does he agree that they need saintliness less than a touch of arithmetic? I am sure that most miners in my home county of Nottinghamshire earning about £20,000 a year would readily realise that, if they worked only another six months—from March to September—they would earn that £10,000, and if the pit continued in operation for two more years, they would be £40,000 better off.

The felicific calculus suggested by the hon. Gentleman appears not to apply to the facts, which are that British Coal says that it will give men a bit more money if they go quickly and quietly and ask no questions. That works, and it is a technique which has been used to close down the industry.

The Government and the people they have put in charge of British Coal are determined to push ahead with the Rothschild-scale closures. We say that they will involve 10,0000 redundancies in the next financial year and 33,000 in 1993–94 if they go ahead. Probably, the Government will exceed even our estimates.

All this is being done to enable the newly privatised generating companies first to burn gas and secondly to import coal. And for whose benefit? It is certainly not being done for the benefit of electricity consumers. The hon. Member for Sherwood will agree that, while the price of British coal has fallen by 3 per cent. over the past five years, the price of electricity to dometic consumers has risen by 40 per cent. Any cost reductions achieved by the coal industry have not been passed on to the electricity customers.

The electricity produced by gas-fired power stations will be dearer than that being produced by coal-fired stations, because the former have to finance the building of the plant as well as buy the gas to run it. The coal-fired stations have paid off their capital charges and the plants are basically free. It is absurd to shift to that position, especially as some of the gas-burning contracts relate a proportion of future price to the world cost of oil.

We all know what can happen to oil. Perhaps the generators and the electricity companies will catch a cold and will expect electricity consumers to wipe their noses. We shall have to wipe their noses in it, because if they incur such costs they will have to bear them.

This year, Britain will import 20 million tonnes of coal. The public pay for that cheaper coal, because the only reason for coal being imported is that British pits are being closed. British taxpayers are being asked to find an extra £1,500 million to pay for closures to facilitate the importation of coal. It is cheap coal for the generating companies, but apparently it brings no benefits whatever to the electricity consumer.

The Government are closing the cheapest, most efficient and safest mining industry in Europe. It is twice as efficient as the German mining industry. God knows, there are not many industries in Britain that we can say that about. That is why a European Commissioner has expressed concern at this loony Government closing the most efficient part of Europe's mining industry. That is why the Commission thinks that the policy is short-sighted, and that it would be right to pay some sort of premium for European security of supply.

The Secretary of State has said in the past that he agrees with the idea of a premium for security of supply. He thought that there would be a general election last year and has almost ceased functioning, except as a sort of election publicity co-ordinator for the Government. He is not doing anything to try to make sure that the generating companies pay some sort of premium for security of supply. Contrary to the advice that he was given by Rothschild, he is not getting involved in the negotiations to make sure that such a premium is provided. Unless he does become involved, the premium will never be paid. There is no way in which British Coal can lever it out of the generating companies, and the generating companies will not volunteer to pay it. There must be participation by the Secretary of State, particularly while he is a 40 per cent. shareholder in the two purchaser companies.

That brings me to Mr. Malcolm Edwards who, as far as I know, is still the commercial director of the British Coal Corporation. No socialist he, but he made the terrible mistake of taking the Secretary of State at his word. He heard the Secretary of State say that he wanted a viable British coal industry, the largest possible coal industry that the market could support. Being a simple-minded sort of fellow, Mr. Edwards set about trying to achieve that. Now the Government propose to sack him, and all because he takes the Secretary of State seriously.

Mr. Edwards should have thought, "Oh no, it is just a cynical two-faced move by the Secretary of State." If he had taken that view, which was taken by the rest of the board of British Coal, his job would have been safe. Instead, he thought that the Secretary of State meant what he said about restraining the decline in the industry—a move which would benefit the industry and might even save the taxpayer a great deal of money on restructuring.

The restructuring grant increase is £1,500 million. The Rothschild report says that, at any level of production from the British coalfield, an additional 10 million tonnes would cost £30 million. That is just 2 per cent. of the restructuring grant, and it would increase output and guarantee sales. An increase in output of 10 million tonnes would transform the industry, and that is why the Government are pursuing the wrong policies.

There is an alternative course that would be good for the industry, the miners, the coalfield communities and the balance of trade. It would husband our precious gas reserves and make a contribution to European energy self-sufficiency. Instead of that, the chairman of British Coal has told the generators that there will be 40 million tonnes, of which 20 million tonnes will be from opencast mining. That leaves just 20 million tonnes of deep-mined British coal.

The other particularly objectionable aspect of the Bill is the proposal to repeal the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908. That is a health and safety measure and was introduced when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had a rather different function. In theory, if Parliament's earlier decisions are to be taken seriously, the Act could not be repealed, because relaxing the law on safety is contrary to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), a constituency which I always think of as Rowley Regis and Tipton, will have more to say about that if he speaks in the debate.

I emphasise that no fewer than two previous Secretaries of State for Energy have solemnly told either the House or a Committee that the Coal Mines Regulation Act affects safety and promised not to repeal it. The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), when he was Secretary of State for Energy, promised that it would not be repealed without the agreement of the miners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) said, the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson), when he was Secretary of State for Energy, said that there would be no change in safety legislation in this Parliament. Those pledges should have been honoured, but the Bill deliberately and explicitly dishonours them.

The proposal to repeal the Act does not have the agreement of the miners. Some foolish people say that the number of hours worked does not affect safety. I hope that we shall not be troubled in the debate by any such people. It is said that the Act has not been adhered to. That is true, but it has always been in the background as a safety mechanism for miners when they were negotiating with management. Miners have always been able to say that they could refuse to work for more than seven and a half hours. Anyone negotiating about hours with an Act such as that behind him has his hand significantly strengthened, and can get extra pay and other concessions in return for working longer hours.

The Secretary of State has chosen to break the pledges made by two of his predecessors, and has given an even vaguer pledge than the one that they gave. [Interruption.] He said:
"The 1908 Act will not cease to operate in the British mining industry until it is replaced by an alternative which will be arrived at either through a European directive or as a result of proposals in the House. I have no intention of producing such proposals at the moment."
Earlier in the debate, he said:
"I have no other intentions at the moment".
He said that he would rely on the European directive but added:
"If the directive is not satisfactory and is not agreed, the 1908 Act will stay and we shall then consider what to do".—[Official Report, 14 November 1991; Vol. 198, c. 1250, 1248, 1261.]

I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman meant by the phrase,
"If the directive … is not agreed".
Not agreed by whom? In the European context that directive is subject to qualified majority voting, so the British Government cannot say no to it. There is no question of their agreeing to it—if the rest of the Community votes for it, it is through and they will have to implement it. But we are told that the Government are resisting the proposition.

Does my hon. Friend realise that the abolition of the 1908 Act is a straight twist by the Government? There are two of us in the Chamber hoping to participate in the debate who worked for the former coal owners under the 1908 Act. That Act had to be introduced because of those swine, the coal owners. When it came to the men's safety the coal owners were wicked—there is no doubt about that.

The nationalisation of the mining industry was the saviour, because the attitude to safety changed. The safety of the work force underground, rather than profit, became the number one priority. But now the Government are planning the privatisation of the coal industry, and they are taking us back to the days of the coal owners, when profit was number one, and blow the men—that is their attitude. That is what the Government want to do, and we must oppose it and stop it.

I am confident that I have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) on this matter. I commend his mastery of understatement in merely describing the previous coal owners as swine.

We should remember that, when a reduction in the number of hours worked below ground by six-year-old children was being contemplated, that great Tory landowner and coal owner, Lord Londonderry, told the House that, if children did not work 12 hours a day at the age of six, they would never learn to be proper colliers. That was the authentic voice of the Tories on mine safety.

The real irony of the Government's decision to rely on the European directive instead of the 1908 Act is that they oppose the European directive root and branch. If that excellent and accurate correspondent of the Press Association, Chris Moncrieff, is to be believed, in Maastricht the Prime Minister
"vowed that he will not budge from his determination to remove from the treaty EC demands for a maximum 48-hour working week and curbs on Sunday employment.
" That is what the right hon. Gentleman said, and that is what we shall probably get.

We do not believe that the European directive will be a satisfactory way of governing miners' working hours and conditions.

I am sorry; I always get the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) muddled up with Ashby de la Zouch, which I believe is in his part of the world.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer. If he operates in the Inns of Court, most of which are in my constituency, I believe that he will realise that the likelihood of his suffering a major industrial accident such as those faced by miners down the pit every day is fairly small. The European directive will apply to lawyers, merchant bankers, shop workers and God knows who. It will apply to people who, by and large, are not involved in especially perilous operations and do not work in perilous places.

If the hon. Gentleman does not recognise that working down a mine is a peculiarly dangerous thing to do in a peculiarly dangerous place, he needs his head examined. I shall give way to him so that he can demonstrate that fact.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has obviously never been down a mine. I know that there is not a single mine in his constituency—there is not one to be found in London—and I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman has ever been down a mine. If he has, he will have found that mining practices have changed considerably in the past 150 years, since the days when six-year-old children went down mines.

Can the hon. Gentleman stop being a little Englander and accept the fact that people in the rest of the continent of Europe have just as much experience of working practices and are just as likely to find the right hours as we are? What is so special about here? Why should the European directive not represent the proper practices that we ought to follow? If the hon. Gentleman examines other European practices, he will find that we have learnt a great deal from Europe.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do we have to listen to this? When did the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West ever have a shovel in his hand? He is a blasted solicitor. What does he know about mining?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been wrongly described as a solicitor. I am a barrister.

I believe that Jack Cade was advised that we should first "kill all the lawyers", and I am beginning to have some sympathy with him.

The European directive is a general measure that will apply to people in all forms of employment. It does not deal specifically with the hazardous circumstances involved in working down a mine.

I am not a little Englander in this respect—the present safety regime in British mines is far better than that in mines anywhere else in Europe or in the world. If Ministers were proud of the record of British industry, they would say in the negotiations on the directive, "Why do you not add to your directive and try to make the mines in Germany, France and Spain as safe as those in Britain?", instead of accepting reductions in mine safety imposed on us from outside. That is what they would do if they had any patriotism and pride, but they do not. The Government are interested only in reducing the safety record—reducing the cost of safety in British mines so that they will be easier to sell off to international mining companies. That is what we have come to.

No, I shall not.

The industry is being shabbily treated. It is being run down by the Tories, who want to reduce it to a small nugget of highly profitable pits that they can sell off to their friends afterwards. They want to sell off the land and the other assets to their profiteering estate agent friends, just as they have done with all the other privatised industries.

We believe that there is a sound future for a substantial British mining industry. As soon as that collection of economic halfwits who sit on the Treasury Bench finally have the courage to call a general election, we shall go to the country, get the support of the coalfield communities and of the people in the rest of the country, and we shall ensure that we secure a large British mining industry for the benefit not only of the coalfield communities but of the whole country and, as the European Commission would confirm, for the benefit of all of the people of western Europe.

5.59 pm

I spoke on Second Reading, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know, but was not able to serve on the Committee, partly because I had already been asked to serve on the Local Government Finance Bill Committee, and partly because the minority parties also wanted to be represented. According to my inquiries—I will apologise if I am wrong—the Liberal Democrats did not want to be ignored on the subject of this important Bill, and took a place on the Committee—a place that I should have been happy to occupy, even on a part-time basis. Yet the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had the nerve not to attend one single sitting. On his own behalf and on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Gentleman should apologise to the House now. I give way to him.

I will certainly explain why I did not attend. There were four sittings. Initially, I asked the Committee of Selection not to appoint me because I knew in advance that I would be unavailable for three of them. While the fourth sitting was taking place, I was giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee that was considering the London Underground Bill.

That was an inadequate explanation, if I may say so. The constraints of the House require us to be careful with our language, but I believe that the Liberal Democrats owe us all an apology.

Let me agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, except for one thing. He said that he would have liked that position on the Committee. He could not have had it because it belonged to the Opposition, not the Government's supporters.

I agree and apologise. The hon. Gentleman will probably not agree with anything else that I say, but at least we have agreed on something—perhaps for the first time.

I agree that it is a serious debate—a very serious debate.

It is not often that the Labour party votes against a Bill that provides finance for British Coal, yet, on this occasion, they have opposed the Bill, solely for the sake of opposition, on Second Reading and throughout. The peg on which they hang their argument is safety and the repeal of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908.

Of course safety is important. No Conservative Member would vote for the Bill if he thought for a moment that he would be putting the safety of anyone underground at risk by doing so. I should certainly not support the Bill if I thought that that was a possibility.

Let us forget our political differences for a moment. Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me, as a miner of 23 years' service, that, by removing the protection afforded by the 1908 Act, the Bill will cause miners to die and to be crippled or seriously injured? That is my genuine view, based on my 23 years' experience as a miner.

I cannot challenge the experience of the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), and I accept that he holds that opinion honourably and sincerely. I have to tell him, however, that he is wrong. I do not believe that to be the case in the modern mining context—but perhaps the hon. Gentleman wants to follow the absurd example of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who treated us to an account of the conduct of a coal baron of God knows how many generations ago in dealing with six-year-old children, highlighting the general absurdity of the case advanced from the Labour Front Bench. I am prepared to take criticism from the hon. Member for Clydesdale because he is an ex-miner, but the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras gets more and more absurd.

On Second Reading, I was accused by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) of voting for the return of Victorian conditions in the mines. I utterly reject that accusation; nothing could be more absurd. The outburst that we had today from the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) was fairly characteristic. We had exactly the same thing in Nottingham a few weeks ago when we held a conference for hon. Members on both sides of the House who are interested in the future of British Coal. In the interests of publicity, and for media purposes alone, Labour Members told us how dreadful everything would be. Much the same images were painted as were painted by the hon. Member for Ashfield today of what would happen if the Bill were passed and the 1908 Act repealed.

I do not think that I shall be contradicted if I say that, when it comes to safety, British Coal's mining engineers probably rank among the best in the world—they may even be better than those in the rest of the world—and that British Coal operates one of the safest deep-mine industries in the world. I do not believe that British Coal would use a technology unless an improvement in operational safety was associated with it.

I am not an expert, but I simply do not believe that British Coal is lying when it says that it is confident that the modern roof-bolting system now being used to varying degrees in more than half the corporation's mines is raising operational standards as well as production efficiency. That is British Coal's view, and I am not in a position to challenge it. I have no evidence on the basis of which to challenge it—only the emotional outbursts of Labour Members. Contrary to the impression given to the House on Second Reading, the Health and Safety Executive says that its confidence in the system has increased as experience of the system has grown.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that British Coal is not operating the safety practice for protecting main roadways? That is not my view; it is the view given by the chief inspector of mines to the Select Committee on Energy. Will the hon. Gentleman take his word as authoritative?

Of course I accept that the chief inspector is an authority. Perhaps I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's point. Is he suggesting that the inspectorate of mines is allowing a practice to continue that it has the power to stop? That is an absurd suggestion. The inspectorate would be in default of its legal duty if it were doing that. I cannot believe that that is the point that the hon. Gentleman sought to make.

On Second Reading, I left the Chamber briefly and while I was away a Labour Member—perhaps he is present and will confirm that it was him—referred to the terrible tragedy at Allerton Bywater.

If it was the hon. Gentleman, I shall happily give way if he wants to intervene to say that I have his story wrong. He sought to place responsibility for that terrible tragedy to a man and his family on the use of rock bolts. I have made inquiries, and I understand that the accident did not result from the use of a rock bolt to secure the roof at the mine but rather from the misuse of that rock bolt. Let me tell the House exactly what I understand happened. The rock bolt was used as an anchor point for a pull lift—in clear contravention of operational rules. A fall occurred, and a miner died. That is a tragedy that we all understand. If what has been said is true, the hon. Member who used this case as an example of reasons for not using rock bolts was being less than fair to the House.

This is the first time I have been accused of being less than fair to the House. I was quoting the coroner's report, which associated the death with the roof bolt. If the hon. Gentleman had any experience of mining, he would know that arch girders provide the greatest safety.

I do not think I have implied that the new system was not in use when that accident occurred. The point that I am making is that it was not used properly. The people concerned were in breach of the operational rules. The hon. Gentleman seems to be implying that, if the older system were used, there would never be any accidents. He knows that in the last couple of months incorrect practices resulted in the loss of life even though the old system was in use. Accidents are tragic, but if people do not abide by the rules there will be accidents, whatever system is in use. That must be understood.

I want to take a few minutes to read from an article which should be enlightening even to people who are not interested in coal. It was written by a David Goodhart and appeared in the Financial Times on Friday 3 January. Throughout these debates we have heard only about pit closures. Hon. Members have given the impression that this industry has no future. The Financial Times article is very dear to the hearts of my colleagues in Nottinghamshire and the surrounding counties. It refers to Asfordby, which represents the future of British Coal—and that is what this Bill is concerned with.

It is not a one-pit future. With 20:20 vision, hindsight is very easy, but if only some of the things that are now happening at Asfordby had been accepted more readily a few years ago, we might well have been having a very different debate today.

The hon. Gentleman says that, with hindsight, things are easy. He should bear in mind the fact that all mining legislation has been the result of hindsight. Over the years, mining accidents have given rise to legislation. The Government are now tampering with legislation that was put in place for the protection of miners.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is making a point, but I cannot follow it.

Let the hon. Gentleman read the Official Report tomorrow.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) will read the Official Report tomorrow.

I believe that, already, expenditure at Asfordby has amounted to about £300 million. That facility will not come into operation until next year, but it already has a full complement of men—about 400. The article to which I have referred points out that, because of the new technology, Asfordby, unlike any other pit, seems almost empty of people. The future of British coal lies in a high-tech industry employing small numbers of people and producing coal at a competitive price.

On the question of pricing, the hon. Gentleman is correct. But that is the problem. I should like to inform him of an exercise that is being carried out by Doug Bulmer, the president of the British Association of Colliery Management. The chairman of British Coal was asked whether every colliery would remain open if it were to produce at 130p per gigajoule. The chairman said that on that matter he could not give Mr. Bulmer an assurance. The other question, which was put to every colliery manager in Great Britain, related to forward planning, forecasts, costs and delivery. The managers were asked what would be the level of production in the year 2000. Apparently, in the year 2000 only five collieries would be able to produce at a cost of 130p per gigajoule. Let the hon Gentleman look at the Rothschild and BACUM figures—14 and five.

The hon. Gentleman will have to come to terms with the fact that there is an energy market to be supplied. The amount of coal that is used is very much a question that is in the hands of British Coal as it negotiates with the current generating authorities. Some people ask how much coal will be dug or how many pits will be open by the year 2000. That is like asking how long is a piece of string. We do not know how big a slice of the cake British Coal will be able to secure. Nobody can say that by the year 2000 there will be five pits, 14 pits—or any number of pits. However, I firmly believe in the ability of British Coal to win a big slice of the energy cake. That—and not some Government decision—is what will determine how many pits stay open.

The electricity industry says that it will buy its coal from abroad unless British Coal can produce at 130p per gigajoule. A colliery manager who is actually planning and investing was asked how many pits would be producing at 130p per gigajoule. The answer was five.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) need not shake his head. The people to whom I am referring actually work the collieries.

The hon. Gentleman is trying to guess what the market price will be in X years' time and what proportion of the market will be accounted for by coal. It is simply impossible to make those judgments. It seems that I have much more faith in the future of coal than does the hon. Gentleman.

Let us not constantly try to talk down the coal industry. Asfordby expects to produce not much less than 2 million tonnes of coal a year with only 400 men. That is an incredible target. If it is achieved, the production costs will be not much more than half the current figure, and the undertaking will be able to compete with most of our opencast coal facilities. It seems an almost impossible target, but the management people believe that they can achieve it. People should stop indulging in doom and gloom and, instead, looks to the future.

I am very glad that in my area miners belong to the Union of Democratic Mineworkers under Roy Lynk. Miners in Nottinghamshire and in the surrounding area want to work towards the future. But the six-day week, the 7·5 hour shift and the other things that make Asforby possible would be impossible if things were left to the National Union of Mineworkers. If it was up to the NUM, we would still be working under arrangements made years ago.

There is nothing in the Bill for the industry to fear. It simply puts the 1908 Act on hold until it is replaced. Nothing in the Bill is detrimental to the industry or to the safety of the men whom we send underground. Therefore, I have no hesitation in supporting the Bill.

6.20 pm

The House may have noticed that so far I have not participated in our debates on this Bill. It is more than 40 years since I worked in a coal mine and, unlike the Minister, I was prepared to listen to the expertise of my hon. Friends who have experience of the industry. I intervene to raise only one matter about which I confess that I share the puzzlement of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie).

The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 related to the hours of work in the coal mining industry. We have heard some discussion about whether it was concerned with health and safety matters. You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker—none better—and anyone who has looked at the research into the causes of accidents will also know that probably the greatest cause of accidents is fatigue, but that is a side issue in this debate. That Act related to hours of work, and I am prepared to settle for that.

Clause 2 purports to repeal an Act that is concerned with hours of work. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian, I have wondered why the Secretary of State for Energy is introducing a Bill which relates to hours of work, because that is a matter for his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The Secretary of State for Energy is concerned with the structure of the coal mining industry, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has just referred. Clause 1 is certainly within the bailiwick of the Secretary of State for Energy, and I am prepared to leave aside its merits for the moment. But, turning again to clause 2, why is the Secretary of State for Employment getting his right hon. Friend at the Department of Energy to deal with a matter that is within his province?

That issue caused me to ask myself how the Secretary of State for Employment would have set about achieving the proposal if it had been his, as we would have expected. I can think of two possibilities. The first is that section 15 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 empowers the Secretary of State—in practice, the Secretary of State for Employment—by regulation to repeal or modify any of the existing statutory provisions. Under section 53, "the existing statutory provisions" means those listed in schedule 1, which includes the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. It is true that schedule 1 does not specifically include the 1908 Act, but section 187 of the 1954 Act provides that the provisions of the 1908 Act should have effect as if they were included in the 1954 Act.

I apologise for inflicting that complicated history on the House, but, as you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the 1908 Act contains only one enforcement provision—a fine of up to £2—so that, without the 1954 Act, the provisions are an empty shell. That is why Parliament decided in 1954 that the provisions of the 1908 Act should be taken on board the 1954 Act because, without that, it was virtually unenforceable.

I return to my original question, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian. Since the Secretary of State for Employment has the power under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 effectively to repeal the 1908 Act, since he is the Minister responsible for such matters and since Parliament clearly contemplated that he would follow that procedure, why is the repeal being effected by a Bill about the financing of the coal industry which has been introduced by the Secretary of State for Energy? I know that it is not within your power to confirm what I am saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you and I can recollect the history of this matter.

Perhaps I can answer the question for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Is it not the case that the 1908 Act is a specific Act that thus requires a specific repeal, whereas the other Act is more concerned with general hours? We are talking about a specific Act that requires repealing if the directive is ever to come into effect. Although I accept that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right about the effects of worker exhaustion, does he not agree that the Germans and the French, who have excellent practices and the same sort of problems and safety record underground as we have, are also aware that the number of hours worked must be limited because of worker exhaustion and, given that the French and the Germans will be just as aware of those facts, will not the provisions be incorporated in the directive?

That is rather a lot of questions and, although I am trying to be brief, I shall try to answer two of them. The first is the question whether, if the Secretary of State for Employment had sought to repeal the 1908 Act, he would have needed to use a Bill. For the reasons that I have just given, I believe that he could have achieved his purpose by using the powers conferred on him under the 1974 Act. However, for the purpose of this argument, I am prepared to assume that he could introduce a Bill, but why was that Bill not introduced by the Secretary of State for Energy? [ Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) will permit me to continue, I shall come to his second point about Europe in a moment.

The answer that occurred to me is that, if the Secretary of State for Employment had been proposing to achieve that, as I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remember better than anybody, section 1(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 stated that those powers were conferred
"with a view to enabling the enactment … to be progressively replaced by a system of regulations … designed to maintain or improve the standards of health, safety and welfare established by or under those enactments."
It is within my personal recollection that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, made that point perfectly clear in our debates on that legislation. Those are the reasons that that power was given. If the Secretary of State failed to meet that condition, I imagine that the courts would hold that he could not exercise the power. So he could not use the obvious power that was conferred under the 1974 Act. So, by different paths, the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West and I have arrived at the same conclusion.

The other possibility is that the Secretary of State might well have introduced a Bill, but everybody would then have asked, "Why did you not use the power under the 1974 Act?" The hon. Gentleman might be ready with an explanation, but I assume that the explanation that would have jumped most quickly to the minds of those concerned is, "Because, in this case, it was not being replaced by any provision that even maintains, much less enhances, the existing standards." In fact, the Secretary of State gave the game away on Second Reading when he said that the provisions of the 1908 Act were too inflexible in modern conditions. That can only mean that they wanted to treat employees in a way that would not have been permissible under the 1908 Act.

I come now to the second question posed by the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West. The Secretary of State told the House on Second Reading that it was all right because the 1908 Act was to be replaced by the provisions of the proposed EC directive on the organisation of working time.

There are two comments to be made on that. First, the directive never says that it should replace existing statutory standards. It does not require existing legislation to be repealed. It provides for minimum standards, and it says that there shall be at least some legislation to bring standards up to that minimum if they are not already there. It is clear from the directive that the EC was not contemplating particularly work in coal mines; it was discussing working hours across the board. There was nothing in the directive specific to coal mining and the problems of fatigue and all the other difficulties associated with it.

Secondly, it is clear that the directive does not provide standards equivalent to those in the 1908 Act. On the hours of work, except for night workers, it simply proposes that a worker should have at least 11 consecutive hours of rest in any period of 24 hours, so a person can work 13 hours and still comply with the directive.

If the Secretary of State for Employment or even the Secretary of State for Energy wished to alter the working arrangements in coal mines, surely the proper course was to consult those most concerned to secure agreement about hours of work which, among other things, would have ensured that safety was not endangered by fatigue. Everyone might have agreed that it was better to have a different provision from that in the 1908 Act and the Secretary of State could have brought forward a Bill on agreed terms.

But to repeal the provisions unilaterally and to announce blandly that they are being replaced by a directive—if and when the directive is concluded—providing for lower standards is cheating. As we have been reminded, the Secretary of State for Employment does not believe in the directive. He is one of the ancient Britons on the Government Benches who fear that the Europeans are soft on employment conditions and that they are encouraging the natives to get above themselves. So he could not come to the House himself and say, "It is all right to repeal the 1908 Act, since the EC Commission will look after us." But I am surprised that the Secretary of State for Energy agreed to do his dirty work for him. The Secretary of State for Energy has dirty work enough of his own. I hope that the House will reject the Third Reading.

6.32 pm

I support and welcome the Third Reading of this important Bill. It guarantees the doubling of restructuring grants to British Coal from £1,500 million to £3,000 million in the period up to 1996. The effect will be to enable British Coal to continue the vital restructuring of the industry and allow, where necessary, generous redundancy terms. It shows a continuing commitment by the Government, who have invested £2 million every working day for 12 years in the coal industry—more than all the other Governments since 1945 put together.

It also ensures that British Coal is on a solid financial footing by writing off the debts and burdens of its past in a massive £5 billion capital restructuring. Largely as a result of the Government's commitments, the coal industry has undergone a more dramatic and remarkable transformation in the past decade than perhaps any other industry, and without a single compulsory redundancy. Taking these measures together, British Coal's financial results for 1990–91 showed the first bottom-line profit for 13 years.

During the Christmas recess, on six successive days, I visited collieries in my constituency and saw the practical results of the investments being operated by management and miners who have increased productivity by 110 per cent. and reduced prices to power generating companies by 40 per cent. in real terms. While I was there, nobody questioned the need for the improvements because they are the road towards guaranteeing a lasting future with British Coal. Nevertheless, while the miners have been meeting every challenge placed before them, their product market has been shrinking because of uncompetitive alternatives, particularly gas, which by 1994 will have replaced 30 million tonnes of coal.

I described the crazy economics of that on Second Reading. I trust as a result that the electricity regulator, Stephen Littlejohn, is now investigating the absurd situation and the possible removal of 12 GW of viable coal-fired stations as a result of the generators' dash for gas.

The miners of Sherwood are angry and resentful at what has happened, particularly since their efforts are helping to finance the new gas-generating stations. One miner summed up the feelings of his colleagues when he said, "We have been kicked in the teeth so many times by politicians of all parties that our dental bills are almost the same as the fossil fuel levy."

My hon. Friend is not normally controversial. When he said that both parties had kicked the miners in the teeth, he may have been trying to calm things. I can remember only one incident when the Labour party really kicked the miners in the teeth. That was when they all went home early one Thursday night and the Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill 1991 got its Second Reading. Was my hon. Friend serious in his remarks? Perhaps he would outline other occasions when that lot kicked the miners in the teeth.

My hon. Friend is right. The miners in Nottinghamshire remember the scandal of the Labour party going home early, with the result that, at 8·10 pm, only 49 Labour Members voted against the Bill. Further, the Nottinghamshire miners noticed that it was a Labour-controlled Humberside county council which passed the planning consent for the new gas-fired stations in Humberside to replace the use of 2·5 million tonnes of coal.

Order. We should get back to the Third Reading of the Bill.

There is more. Mr. Deputy Speaker, would you not like to hear what I meant when I said that all parties had kicked the miners in the teeth?

Let us nail the facts. I was the pairing Whip on the Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill. It was Conservative Members who wanted to pair to get away. Had I refused the pairing arrangement, there would have been a full contingent in the House. It made no difference to the numbers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have been here a long time and you will know that a private Bill is not whipped business.

The frustration of both management and men which I found during my visits to the Sherwood collieries was due to uncertainty about the British Coal market share after April 1993. The new contracts will be around 55 million tonnes and must be settled soon. Sherwood's miners will meet head on the challenge for maximum tonnage. Already plans are laid in every pit to continue reducing unit costs through investment and productivity, and by 1993 will match the current so-called world price for coal.

In December, the Nottinghamshire miners recorded a best-ever production of 6·25 tonnes per man shift, which demonstrates beyond doubt that they can deliver the goods to our generators at prices beneficial to the generators and to domestic and industrial customers. Therefore, the generators do not need to import coal and face the uncertainty of price and the danger of possible international coal cartels.

Britain has 200 years of workable coal reserves and miners prepared to deliver it at given prices. That is a guaranteed partnership which no coal supplier from abroad can provide. If we want to back a sure winner, that team is a certainty.

Is it not a fact that the hon. Gentleman has advised the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to buy into the pits when they are privatised after the next election if, God forbid, the Tories get in? He has advised them to take part and buy in as part of the privatisation measure. What will he say to the UDM if they do so, say at the end of this year, but in 1993, after they have spent their money, the contracts are awarded to coal at a much lower price from other countries? They will lose their cash and see their pits shut as a result of coal imports when he advised them to speculate before the orders were made.

That intervention surprises me. The hon. Gentleman knows that the UDM has its own financial advisers who are paid to give it such advice. I have merely said to the UDM miners that if they wish to have a stake in their industry, good luck to them. It is their future. The future of the coal industry is what it is all about.

Clause 2 repeals the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908. Its repeal will be suspended until the Act is superseded by and EC directive. The measure has brought allegations that safety in our coalfields will be jeopardised. Let me reassure the doubting Thomases that nothing is further from the truth. In Nottinghamshire, safe working practices are paramount and take precedence over all else. That was widely in evidence during my visits. From the time when the miners arrive in the car park, they are subjected to visual and verbal reminders to make each day a safe day. That has resulted in a welcome reduction in injuries year on year. That reduction will continue because no one is resting on his laurels. Coal may be king, but safety is life. I commend the Bill to the House.

6.42 pm

I am tempted to be drawn by one or two distractions in the speech of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). I may deal with them later. I do not intend to take too long. I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I had some bad news. Someone tried to break into my flat so I had to run over and speak to the police. I apologise for being late as a result.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), the present shadow Secretary of State for Energy who will be Secretary of State for Energy in not too long, said that the Rothschild report was at the root of the debate tonight. I remind the House, if it needs reminding, that the Rothschild report talked about 13 or 14 pits. It is my strongly held view that the target is a maximum, not a minimum. Indeed, we are seeing evidence of that in the internal strife at British Coal.

I have heard brief references to Mr. Malcolm Edwards, whose contract is not to be renewed. I have to tell Mr. Edwards that I will be surprised if he is surprised at that news. I knew when the new chairman of British Coal came to power and when his contract was renewed last year for only another 12 months, that that would be his last 12 months. if he did not know that, many of us suspected it and have been proved right.

Mr. Malcolm Edwards is not a supporter of the Labour party. I do not know whether it is true, but I am informed that he is a card-carrying member of the Conservative party. I am reliably assured that he fell foul of his present bosses because he was confused about where his loyalties lay. Were his loyalties with his political party—bearing in mind the wonderful brief's which Conservative Back-Bench members have received from that source—or with British Coal? British Coal is fighting in the middle. The new chairman was brought in for a specific purpose.

I remind the House that when the new chairman came to power, he replaced a chairman whose salary was £98,000. He immediately went on to a salary of £220,000. On 23 February the Prime Minister was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) whether he would like to comment on the more than doubling of the chairman's salary. The Prime Minister replied that the new chairman must be well worth that money if that was what he was being paid. That was strange because it was probably the Prime Minister who agreed that his salary should be doubled.

The new chairman is a financier, not a miner. I have met him on several occasions. He is a cordial and pleasant man, but he is a financier. He has come in to do a job—to prepare the coal industry for privatisation. He has told the Government that the industry cannot be privatised in its present form. He has said that private capital will not invest in the industry unless it is considerably contracted.

I remember at my first meeting with the chairman challenging him to defend the statement that he would run the industry down to 30 pits. He knocked the ball back over the net and did not answer the question directly. The estimate of 30 pits was a mistake. The reporter who heard the rumour must have thought that the chairman said 30 when he probably said 13. That is the position and that is what the Bill is all about.

I shall speak for a few minutes more in the hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) comes back into the Chamber. Some of his comments tonight convinced me, if I needed convincing, that he does not know a thing about the coal industry. I do not know whether it is common knowledge, but it is knowledge that I have acquired in the past few days, that Mr. Edwards, who as I said is not a supporter of the Labour party, is a long-serving member of the board of British Coal and has supported the running down of the industry over a considerable period. He has probably been on the board long enough to see 200,000 mining jobs lost.

Now that Mr. Edward's own job is going, he is not acting as responsibly as he said miners should. He criticised miners for opposing any threat to their jobs. I am told that he is suing British Coal. I can remember a meeting with the Coal Board at which the National Union of Mineworkers was criticised. I was chairman of a miners welfare and social club. British Coal spent more than a quarter of a million pounds on removing me as the chairman of the trustees. That was not an act taken to improve the productivity of the coal industry. It was a political decision to get rid of a chap who was a member of the union, whom the board did not want involved in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.

We hear all these noises from Nottinghamshire about how everyone is working together wonderfully. I am in Nottinghamshire regularly. I was there only last weekend. As I always did during the 20-odd years that I lived there I enjoyed myself socially with the miners. I have to tell the House that the miners I know in Nottinghamshire—they work at all the pits in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sherwood—do not share his view that they have been treated wonderfully.

At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member for Sherwood praised the Government and said what a wonderful job they were doing and that miners should be thankful that they were losing their jobs. They should be thankful that they were getting a little blood money for redundancy. If one applies that theory to the position that some hon. Members will be in after the general election, I do not think that when the hon. Member for Sherwood loses his seat—after all, he will get £30,000 lump sum—he will be sending a wee thank-you note to the Labour candidate who just removed him. Let us get rid of the idea that what is happening in the industry is good for miners. It will do no favours for the miners, for the industry, for our economy or for our country. The British coal industry has a proud record of supporting our economy. It has been run down disastrously by a Government with an economic policy which only they can understand.

Last Friday, I attended the birthday party of one of my constituents, Mrs. Mary Forgie. You may ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what that has to do with the Bill. It has this to do with it. Mary Forgie was 100 last Friday and in her early life she was a miner. As a young girl she worked in the pits. She had nine children, and her five sons all worked in the mines. She was born in the reign of Queen Victoria, and has lived through the reigns of four kings and through 40 years of the reign of the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth. She has seen quite a lot. She saw the Victorian days that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) told us were so good for us. She has seen the industrial revolution and wars, and she saw the coal industry when it employed women and children to work seven days a week, 12 and 14 hours a day.

Tragically, at her time in life she has to witness a reversal in the industry, as the Government try to take it and the people employed in it back to those dark Victorian days.

It is nonsense for anyone, whether a solicitor from Leicester or from wherever, to stand in the House and say that, by taking away the protection for miners' working hours, we will be doing them good. I shall repeat what I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Nottingham, South—by taking away protection the Bill will kill miners, it will disable and cripple them.

As one of my hon. Friends said, each miner depends on his workmate for his own safety. It is important for each miner to be alert to what is happening in the working environment. I shall give two examples from my own experience. I was an engineer in a pit and was working overtime on the night shift. I had come out early at 9 o'clock at night and at 7 o'clock the following morning I was working on a breakdown at a coal face, with a fellow fitter, Gibby Dobbie. Because we were working overtime, most miners at other parts of the coal face had gone home. There was a roof collapse and I was buried. Thankfully, my head was trapped in the air pocket of a trepanner but had it not been for my colleague's alertness I might not have been here to complain about this legislation.

The other example is when I was trapped by the foot by a three-ton piece of machinery. Had it not been for the alertness of the person with me, I might have lost a foot, or worse. I depended on the alertness of my workmates, and I could give hundreds of similar examples.

I was a union official in a mining village. Perhaps Conservative Members do not understand that that means one tends to become a sort of parish priest, dealing with all the problems. People come at all times of the day and night. When men fall out with their wives or whatever, they go to the secretary to ask for help. They have come to me to ask for shelter when their house was burning down.

When I was a union secretary, there were six fatalities at the pit where I worked. Most of the fatalities were during overtime, when men were working outwith their normal shift and when they were more fatigued. I had the responsibility—perhaps some of my colleagues have also had that experience—of telling a parent, a mother or a child that their son, husband or father was not coming home.

We are talking about changing legislation. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South did not appreciate my remarks about hindsight. Every part of our mining legislation was made from disasters, like the ones I experienced. For God's sake, we all know the problems, we know about gas explosions and the need to inspect roadways for gas.

People advising the Government about changing the legislation are not considering what is good for the work force. During a recent meeting with the Secretary of State for Energy and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, we talked of our fears about privatisation. The Secretary of State was fair and open-minded—as he always is—when we met him. He has his views, which are different from ours, but he is very polite. He told us that the industry has to get rid of what he called "historical liabilities", to prepare for privatisation. That term covers a range of things—financial liabilities and liabilities under the Act to protect the worker from the employer. If those liabilities are not relaxed and if some of them are not eliminated, the financial advisers do not believe that there will be any inducement for private industry to come in and invest. Therefore, they are moving in that direction, and the Bill is a step in that direction. There will be other Bills and other measures to get rid of what the Government term "historical liabilities".

I am certain that many of my colleagues and the hon. Member for Sherwood, who represents a lot of mining families—at present—are aware that one of the liabilities is concessionary fuel. Although they keep denying it, we know that the industry is getting rid of that liability. We shall see what happens.

It is also apt for us to discuss the position of the pension scheme. Ironically, the scheme has done a little better in the past few years because of the Government's inadequacies. Because of their mishandling of the economy and the high interest rates, the pension scheme and its investments have brought it more income. However, during the majority of its years the scheme has been in deficit—it is a deficit-funded scheme and that is another historical liability. When I met the Secretary of State, as a member of the miners' parliamentary group, I told him that I hoped that the Government were not thinking in any way, shape or form of using the £8 billion in the miners' pension scheme as a way to attract private capital.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman may recall, although he was not here at the time, that until the Coal Industry Act 1987, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers was not allowed to sit on the board of trustees. At that time, his union blocked every sensible investment decision that the pension fund managers wanted to make. That is why there is an accumulating surplus of £1,500 million.

Let us kill that one right now. The NUM took a correct and principled stand by opposing investment in South Africa. The trustees would not support investment there. They were right to do so and I applaud them for doing that now. The hon. Gentleman's comment is a load of nonsense.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) can use his influence to persuade his colleagues in the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to make public the financial control and administration of the Nottinghamshire workmen's compensation scheme. There are no published accounts, and anyone who has knowledge of that scheme knows that UDM officials are paid tax-free benefits from the scheme as a means of giving them free handouts. The hon. Gentleman may want to talk to Lynk and his cohorts about how much he rakes off of the money paid into the fund by the Government.

We shall see.

The Bill is disastrous. It is designed for financiers and for those who seek to use the mining industry to make money. It does not consider the safety of the industry or the well-being of mining communities. For that reason, we will oppose the Bill and for that reason we shall win a lot of seats in the east midlands, and one of those seats will be Sherwood.

7.1 pm

One advantage of having been a Member of the House for many years is that one has had an opportunity on a number of occasions to listen to arguments about problems facing the coal industry and our economy. The Opposition have tried to paint themselves today as almost philanthropic friends of the coal miner. More than a quarter of a century ago, I occupied the position of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and my first task was to wind up for the Opposition in the Second reading debate on the Coal Industry Bill 1965. It was probably the Bill that tore the heart out of the British coal industry. The number of pits that were to be closed as a result of that Bill was, as predicted by the then Minister of Power, the late Lord Lee, a minimum of 200.

Second Reading was a moving occasion because in those days there were many more former miners in the House. Lord Lee said:
"there are pits … about 200"
which it would probably be necessary to close
"over the next five years … This is about the same number as in the past five years, but the Board intends, with the Government's full support, to speed up the process by effecting more than half of these closures within … two years … Within the next five years, the Coal Board aims to close all those collieries which fail to cover their running costs and are unlikely to do so in a foreseeable period of time."—[Official Report, 25 November 1965; Vol.721, c.784.]
Those colliery closures took place and, sadly, many others followed. The problem for the British coal industry has always been, and remains, that although it is by far the most mechanised and efficient in Europe——

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I remember those days because I was a young miner at the time and I worked in one of the pits about which the hon. Gentleman spoke. Most of those pits were what we called "taty" pits—small pits—and the idea was to close the small pits and to merge them with the big super-pits. That happened in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. I went to one of the super-pits and worked the coal that I had worked from the colliery that I had just left. The idea was to close down the small pits and to make them into super-pits which would produce more coal.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter, because it takes me to my next point.

The British coal industry is the most mechanised industry in Europe and one of the largest. The level of mechanisation reminds me of another super-pit—Bevercotes. It reminds me of the ROLF—the remotely operated longwall face. It also reminds me of the Collins miner which the late Lord Robens believed would be able to rip coal out of the narrowest seam. The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) is corect to say that there was a belief that somehow or somewhere there was an industry that would be the core and the foundation for the whole business. Sadly, Bevercotes did not live up to expectations, and ROLF and the Collins miner were never quite enough. One reason is that, although our coal industry may be the most mechanised and efficient in Europe, it produces deep-mined coal. Deep-mined coal will never be able to compete on all fours unless it is 100 per cent. efficient with the opencast coal of other countries. Unfortunately, against that background, we must recognise that we are part of a four-fuel economy.

I remember the 1960s, when the Labour Government produced the document setting out Britain's energy strategy. One paragraph is engraved on my mind because it predicted that there would always be a plentiful and cheap supply of middle east oil. Against that background, the closures took place. I go further. Energy forecasting is not an exact science; it is an art or guesswork. It was not long ago that we were told that gas was too precious to burn and that it would be the feedstock for the chemical industry. We were told that even coal would be too precious. Now we are talking about gas-firing power stations. We live in a changing world.

I am saddened and amazed to learn that the Opposition have decided to vote against the Bill on Third Reading tonight. All coal industry Bills—and this is no exception—have made additional financial provision for the industry "Restructuring" is a word that could have been used in 1965 as much as it can be used in 1992. The industry requires all the assistance that it can get to find ultimately the core business which can be the foundation stone of its future.

Opposition Members may believe that, if they were in government, they would be able to transform the industry and make it grow again. I have not heard a word from Opposition Front-Bench Members this afternoon about the size of the industry which they envisage. I have heard a great deal of criticism about what we are doing but I have yet to hear Opposition Members say what they envisage the size of the industry will be. As much as anyone, they recognise that there are variable components in the equation of gas, coal, nuclear and oil.

The Bill aims, once again, to give the industry an opportunity to resolve its problems itself. It may not he possible. I cannot tell whether anything to do with the Rothschilds will be taken account of or not. All I know is that the industry has been racked with problems ever since I came to the House in 1964 and long before that. In the so-called 13 wasted years before that, the Tories had kept the pits open; it was a Labour Government that started to close them. So I do not recognise in the arguments of Opposition Members this afternoon any guarantees to the miners that their jobs are secure.

Sadly, closures and restructuring are not new to the industry. The Bill should be given a Third Reading because it at least gives the industry, in the current context, an opportunity to be successful.

7.10 pm

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson). I note what he has said, and I am familiar with many of the times that he has referred to, but I think that he will agree with me that, when mines were closed in the period that he referred to, the situation was well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) just now. Many were small mines. At that time, there was very little unemployment and there were very few redundancies among miners, even though the pits were being closed. There were transfer arrangements, and new housing estates were built to enable these men to transfer to other pits. The hon. Member for New Forest will surely agree with me that it is a different ball game now.

The hon. Member said that he could not understand why Opposition Members opposed the Bill. I suppose that, if money is available for miners in these circumstances, even though we do not agree that they should lose their jobs, it might be difficult to understand; but having spent a lifetime in the mining industry, I will never vote for a Bill that can threaten the safety of coal miners.

Since nationalisation, the British coal industry has had a very proud record on safety. In recent years, I am sad to say, there has been evidence that the record will to a great extent be lost if we are not very careful. It certainly worries me no end if we start tinkering with mining safety laws and if we are to face, which God forbid, privatisation of the coal industry.

One must look at the history of the past few years to appreciate the situation and the policy that is taking shape now in British Coal. I well remember in 1981 standing at the tape machine down the corridor. I heard someone behind me say, "By, that's good news." The voice belonged to the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), and she was pointing to the item which said that Harold Evans had been made editor of the Sunday Times. I turned and said to the right hon. Lady, "There's better news there," because the tape was announcing that the problems of the miners in 1981 had been settled.

The right hon. Member for Finchley said to me, "Yes, they've got themselves in such a mess." What she did not say was that there would be preparations over the next two or three years to take the miners out, yet that is what happened. From 1984, it was the policy of the right hon. Lady and her Cabinet to run down the coal industry, and we have seen it run down rapidly ever since.

For many years, I have been privileged to be a member of the Select Committee on Energy. We have taken much evidence on the coal industry over the years and, as witnesses, we have had many chairmen of British Coal and many Secretaries of State for Energy. In our reports, we have repeatedly warned of the consequences for the energy requirements of our country of running down our coal industry to the extent that we could not meet the demand.

The very last report was printed on 10 July last year, and I want to read two or three lines of its conclusions, because, if Select Committee reports mean anything, the Government surely ought to give consideration to them. I heard someone on television last night, with regard to the Maxwell brothers, say that he thought that Select Committees were now redundant. I do not believe that is the case, but I wonder sometimes: many hours are spent listening to expert evidence and the all-party membership makes an honest endeavour to produce constructive reports, but Governments tend not to take a great deal of notice of them.

This is what the report said barely six months ago:
"The main conclusion of this part of our Report is that a long-term view needs to be taken of the value of having a substantial indigenous coal industry offering secure supplies at stable prices, and of coal's place among other fuels in providing for the country's long-term energy needs … Above all, if a significant proportion of the UK's coal reserves were abandoned, which we hope will not happen, resulting in a major reduction of long-term energy security, the Government should understand that the country would see this not as a commercial decision but a largely irreversible decision of historic significance for the UK."
I have no doubt that the Government read that and replied to it, but the reply has been very miserable and negative. That is the view of all members of the Committee. Correspondence is taking place between the Clerk of the Committee and the Department of Energy at this time making these very points.

What worries me now is the attitude of British Coal. There are great worries that British Coal is taking part in an exercise to negotiate for contracts after the 1993 contracts come to an end, and the suggestion is that there may be some confusion. The international coal report, just out on Monday of this week, refers to the situation of Malcolm Edwards. Like other people, I have no great beef about Malcolm Edwards and nothing against the chap. I do not warm to him, because he once told the Select Committee on Energy that he could not wait for the day when the coal industry was privatised. Nevertheless, he has been the commercial director of British Coal for many years, and he has vast experience.

The report discusses Malcom Edwards under the headline "British Coal Ditches Edwards":
"Some of the stuff put about by the British Coal press office at the beginning of this week discrediting Malcolm has disgusted many of us at Hobart House. Even outsiders who have never worked for the company have come to us and complained about this sort of character assassination",
a senior British Coal executive is quoted as saying.

I had the opportunity to put questions to the Secretary of State and Mr. John Baker, the chief executive of National Power, this morning. This report suggests that Edwards was being moved over or ditched, call it what you will, within only a few short months of being given a two-year contract by the Secretary of State himself, because he has not been prepared to go 100 per cent. along the Government's line on running down the coal industry.

The position is that, if the coal industry was not going to be run down to the extent that it is suggested it may be, there would be no need for clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 1 is preparing the way for the rundown of the industry and paying off all these thousands of men.

Discussions have gone on with the chairman of British Coal. He has appeared before the Select Committee twice. I do not want to be offensive about the man, but I do not know why he came before us at all. I accept that it may have been difficult for him the first time, but on each occasion every member of the Committee came out totally exhausted having attempted to get any answers from that man.

I understand that the chairman of British Coal, along with Dr. Moses and Mr. Hurley, who will replace Mr. Edwards, have come to some cosy agreement. They have agreed that the contracts for the supply of coal to the power stations should stand at 40 million tonnes. They anticipate that that is the amount of coal that can be mined competitively to meet the ready market. If there is such a cosy arrangement and Edwards has had to go because he is not part of it, it means that we shall end up with the coal industry anticipated by the Rothschild report.

Mr. Baker, the chief executive of National Power, told the Energy Select Committee this morning that he did not rule out the possibility that, by the mid-1990s, 50 per cent. of its coal needs would be met by imports. He told us, in all honesty, that the ports are already being prepared for that. If that happens, it will mean that British Coal will run down its operations to the extent that it will produce about 25 million tonnes a year.

Once we cannot meet the demands from within our shores, how long will the imported coal remain cheap? That is what I would like to ask Mr. Edwards. We will then be in the hands of our competitors. It would be absolutely irresponsible to sterilise the billions of tonnes of coal that are available to us. If the cosy agreement goes ahead, that coal will never be mined.

Everyone seems hellbent on suggesting that we do not need coal because we have gas. The Secretary of State has told the Energy Select Committee that, within the next 10 years, all new capacity for the generation of electricity will be supplied by gas. I believe that such electricity generation would be a shocking waste of gas. However, I accept that the Secretary of State retracted that claim this morning.

Yes, my hon. Friend is right.

The supply of gas will not last for ever, but it appears that the Government are willing to run down the coal industry and to leave the country at the mercy of our competitors. When the gas runs out, we will be totally dependent upon foreign coal. That is what clause 1 and the money is all about.

Some people have said that 30,000 quid is all right, but many miners will not get that, because they are not old enough. What is £30,000 to the young men who have moved from their mother pit—that is the name given to the first pit that one goes down as a lad—to two or three other pits? I know some miners who moved to Selby and they were told, "This is it." Selby is considered the jewel in the crown and those men were told that, if they got a job there, it would be a job for life. Many young men were encouraged, and rightly so, to buy themselves the decent homes to which they are entitled. They mortgaged themselves pretty well up to the hilt because they based their repayments on what they thought their income would be.

If the Rothschild recommendations are put into operation, two of the Selby fields, the jewel in the crown, will close. The young miners at that pit are sick in the guts and worried stiff. What is £30,000 to those men who are mortgaged up to the hilt? It means nothing.

The mining communities have been savaged, but they have received little financial assistance to attract alternative industry.

The RECHAR issue is a scandal. The European Commission, which allocates the money, has identified the areas where it should go. Why should the Government want to be involved? I do not want to accuse the Government of playing politics with that money.

The money from RECHAR is designed to go to mining areas, which are traditionally full of Labour supporters who return Labour Members. That is why the Government do not want the money to go to those areas. If that money was supposed to go to Westminster council or Wandsworth, it would be there tomorrow.

Order. I appreciate hon. Members' anxiety about this matter, but the RECHAR proposals are outside the scope of the Bill.

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but RECHAR would create jobs for the men who will be made redundant as a result of clause 1, and I believe that it is reasonable to discuss it. However, I shall say no more about it.

It is a pity that the money from RECHAR has been left in Europe when it could be used in our mining communities. Many miners are suspicious about this matter. They think that the money is not forthcoming because the Government do not expect to attract any votes in the mining areas.

Well, that is what the miners think.

I appreciate that other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude shortly.

I understood from the Secretary of State this morning that the licences given to the regional electricity generators mean that they must at all times generate electricity at the least possible cost. We are informed by British Coal that electricity can be generated from coal at a cost of 2·3p per kWh. The cost of electricity generation from new gas-fired stations is far in excess of that figure. If that is so, what will happen to all the plans for new gas-fired electricity stations? What will OFFER—the Office of Electricity Regulation—do to ensure that the terms and conditions of those licences are fulfilled? Will the electricity generators be in breach of the licences given to them as a result of electricity privatisation if they continue to produce electricity from gas at a price far in excess of that which could be produced from coal?

7.28 pm

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse). I spent many happy years on the Energy Select Committee with him, and I always defer to him on issues pertaining to the coal industry. However, he lost his way a little this evening when he spoke about the Rothschild report. Like the media, he selected the worst case scenario. The report describes other much more optimistic scenarios than those that he mentioned.

The Bill is extremely important for British Coal and its work force. It deals principally with the future size of that work force and with safety aspects of miners' working hours. The United Kingdom coal industry is vital in this country, currently supplying a third of the national energy needs. Some 96 million tonnes of coal are produced, of which British Coal produces 72 million tonnes. The future size of British Coal will depend on three criteria. First, the United Kingdom total demand for energy in the future, particularly for electricity; secondly, coal's share of that energy market; and, thirdly, British Coal's share of the coal market.

Electricity is easily the most important customer, accounting for some 80 per cent. of British Coal's market, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. The key issue for British Coal is the renegotiation of the contracts with the two generators, PowerGen and National Power, which need to be replaced by March 1993. Those contract negotiations are crucial to the United Kingdom coal industry's future, irrespective of its ownership at that time.

For British coal to be confident of achieving its objectives, it will need to continue to drive down its costs more than it has achieved so far. In British Coal's favour is its continuing success in increasing productivity in its deep mine sector. The outlook per man shift has increased by more than 100 per cent. in the past six years and, under the Government since 1979, the average annual productivity has trebled to more than 6·5 per cent. a year. By any standards, that is a remarkable achievement, and one would hope that the Opposition would occasionally mark that achievement in a proper manner.

British Coal believes that there is still considerable potential for greater efficiency in its deep mine sector. For example, it intends to increase from 35 per cent. to 70 per cent. the proportion of coal faces fully equipped with heavy duty equipment. That increases face output by 60 per cent. It also intends to accelerate the use of retreat mining techniques, which will increase labour productivity by a further 26 per cent. British Coal has said:
"Altogether we are confident that by the various measures we have put in hand we can increase labour productivity by a further 50 per cent. over the next few years."
That is marvellous news. It demonstrates the real commitment of the management and work force to keep as much of their current market share as possible. How much more helpful it would be if Opposition Members supported British Coal's positive approach, rather than continually sounding the death knell of the industry with their Jeremiah-like pronouncements.

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that many Opposition Members not only applaud the miners for their achievements in the past few years but actually live, drink and eat with them in their communities. We recognise what miners have done over the years.

The hon. Gentleman also said that retreat technology had just come in. That system has existed for at least 20 or 30 years. The problem has nothing to do with miners and everything to do with management. They have never practised the technique and would not make the investment or commitment themselves to retreat mining systems until recently. However, it has always been there and was a profitable way of extracting coal.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for endorsing the achievement of mineworkers in the past decade. Furthermore, I agree with him that the retreat mining technique has been in place for 20 or 30 years, but management now say that, to achieve greater productivity, they will now make the investment that the hon. Gentleman rightly says is necessary.

There are two real fears for British Coal in the run-up to the negotiations on contracts: first, the creeping increase in the planned and constructed combined cycle gas plant; secondly, the threat of coal imports from abroad, particularly the United States and Australia. As the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford said, only some 200 million tonnes of coal is currently traded internationally. The best estimate of the likely size of the coal-fired generating market in this country is some 60 million to 70 million tonnes. Any attempts to purchase significant quantities of that total on the world markets would inevitably raise prices. That fact will not be lost on PowerGen and National Power in their negotiations with British Coal.

Other advantages on British Coal's side of the negotiations, of which notice must be taken, are, first, the fact that the generating capacity of PowerGen and National Power is almost totally coal burn. Some combined cycle is planned for the near future, but in the next few years they must purchase their coal and negotiate the best price for it. The product is on their doorstep and is priced in sterling. Therefore, they have a good hedge against movements on the overseas currency market, because coal, like most other commodities, is priced in dollars. Secondly, British Coal could give those generators a guarantee of supplies at a fixed price related to United Kingdom inflation rates.

When people increase productivity in that way, they simply work themselves out of a job. Is it not a problem of under-consumption, where people cannot consume as much as miners can produce? The more miners produce and the harder they work, the sooner the pits shut.

It is not true. When President Bush visited Japan recently, he argued that American car producers should be protected from the greater productivity of the Japanese car industry. The only way in a capitalist economy is to be highly productive, producing goods at the lowest possible price for the consumer.

Clause I of the Bill deals with grant aid to British Coal. I welcome the increase in restructuring grant from £1,500 million to £2,500 million. It will enable British Coal to continue the vital restructuring work and allow, where necessary, generous redundancy terms to continue to be offered. The clause shows the Government's continuing commitment to provide generous grant support to British Coal. The money is in addition to the considerable financial support given to British Coal in the past 10 years. The Government put British Coal on a solid financial footing by writing off its debts with a massive £5 billion capital reconstruction programme. That programme also enabled British Coal last year to make a profit of £78 million, which was the first bottom-line profit for 13 years.

Furthermore, the Government have invested more than than £25 billion in the past decade—some £2 million each working day—in the coal industry. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said that the restructuring grant was too big or grotesque, but the £25 billion that the Government have put into the coal industry is £2·5 billion a year. That £2·5 billion could have been used in subsidies under the old system, but it is now being provided to restructure and pay out generous benefits to miners.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about all the money that the Coal Board has put in over the years, he fails to mention that it has made 100,000 miners redundant with that money. If the amount is added up, the hon. Gentleman may find that the saving is the same amount.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because most of the money put into British Coal was to underwrite debts and for investment. It was used for both purposes.

The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford also said that RECHAR moneys were not going to mining areas because there were no votes in it. A Government who, in the past 10 years, have paid £25 billion and more to mining areas cannot be accused of not putting money in because there are no votes in it for them.

Clause 2 refers to the repeal of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908, which governs the hours of work underground. Due to its impracticality, the 1908 Act is widely disregarded in the industry by both mineworkers and management. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras more or less admitted that, when he spoke of the bargaining position that is adopted in relation to the Act in order to negotiate extra pay for hours worked above the statutory 7·5. The repeal will not take effect immediately. The Minister assured us that the Act's provisions would continue to apply until the Secretary of State implemented the repeal if and when the Act was substituted by an EC directive. There will be no gap between the 1908 Act and the introduction of regulations to comply with the directive.

The crucial factor is whether the 1908 Act has any bearing on safety. If it is agreed within the industry that it is never implemented directly, it must be that other measures within the health and safety ambit are responsible for the excellent safety record of British Coal in the past decade. In the past 10 years, under this Government, Britain's mines have become safer than ever before. Increased Government investment has brought increased safety for British Coal's work force. In 1978–79, there were 72 British fatalities in British Coal's deep mines. In 1990, that number had been reduced to just 11. The safety of those who work in the industry is of paramount importance.

The repeal of the 1908 Act and its replacement with an EC directive will reinforce the position of safety as the primary consideration for working practice. In addition, the Department of Energy has kept in close touch with the Health and Safety Executive in producing levels of productivity and maintaining the high earnings of the work force while reducing excessive overtime.

The Bill gives British Coal the necessary financial support to continue its restructuring in a way that does not ignore miners' needs and interests. The commitment of resources gives British Coal every flexibility to take proper decisions at the correct time and to avoid costly delays and increased interest charges on borrowings. The Bill is vital for the health of the coal industry and will, I am sure, receive the wholehearted support of Conservative Members.

7.44 pm

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak tonight and particularly to follow the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss), as I disagree almost totally with everything that he said, especially about the industry's safety record in recent years. The one factor that he did not take into consideration was the massive reduction in the industry's manpower, which has fallen by about 80 per cent. For him to talk about the magnificent effort that has been made to achieve those results is nothing other than a sham. I ask all hon. Members with a feel for the coal mining industry to vote against the Bill as it is nothing more than a sham.

The Bill is an attempt to use huge tranches of money for nothing other than clearing the industry's liabilities and fattening it up for ultimate privatisation. It returns us to an era which people in the coal mining districts of Britain had thought had disappeared long ago. To explain my reasoning for that conclusion I shall refer to the closure——

I have been busy working out the safety figures and the hon. Gentleman is wrong in his assertion. The fatality figures in 1947 and 1950, when they were at their worst, are 476 and 688 respectively, which works out at about one in 1,600 employees in the old figures. That statistic is now down to one in 5,000. In terms of the total number of employees in the industry, the number of fatalities is almost 500 per cent. better than it was 30 or 40 years ago—it has been steadily improving.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has made a good case for the nationalisation of the coal industry. I do not want to dwell on the figures too much, but when he makes his calculations he should consider the different methods used in the coal mining industry to establish the number of accidents and fatalities. If he wishes, he may leave the Chamber now and go to the Library to get the reports for the past 15 years issued by the Health and Safety Executive which warn about the rundown of the mining inspectorate. Mining inspectors are now so thin on the ground that it is almost impossible to get them to go under ground, sometimes even after fatalities have occurred in mines.

Only yesterday the closure was announced of the last coal mine in my constituency, Sherwood colliery. It was a profitable pit where the work force of men and women of every political and social persuasion had pulled together to make it profitable. The closure will result in a massive loss of jobs in a community that already has one of the fastest rising unemployment levels per capita. Those jobs will he lost not because the coal mine was unprofitable but because British Coal blackmailed the work force into voting for the pit's closure after an agreement had been reached with the trade unions that the closure would not occur until mid-1993. British Coal blackmailed the work force with one threat: it said that unless the employees voted for the pit's closure before March, they would lose the £10,000 per head redundancy payments.

It is incredible that Conservative Members should say that the Government and the Bill support the coal mining industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) intimated, the measure is a method of obtaining cash to allow the industry to clear its liabilities so that it can be fattened up. We who represent and live in coal mining districts, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) said, talk to miners and their families, understand the position. Miners know when a pit is ready for closure and when there is doubt about its productivity level because the first thing to happen is that the Government give British Coal—the National Coal Board as it used to be—a lot of money to start buying equipment to put down the mine before they close it. That is what the Government are seeking to do: they want to fatten up the industry before they privatise it. One or two hon. Members are shaking their heads, but Sherwood pit was profitable, which proves without a shadow of doubt that what I have said about Government action is true.

Some people ask what will happen to those miners who wish to stay in the industry. Ministers, officials in the Department and British Coal say that those people will have a future and a chance. The miners voted three to one in favour of taking redundancy because they were blackmailed by Government policy and by British Coal. If a miner says that he wants to continue working in the coalfields in Nottinghamshire because he believes that they have a future and that the Government believe in coal, his only chance of being allowed to do so is if British Coal manages to blackmail other miners at other pits under legislation such as this to get others to vacate their jobs at other collieries to allow miners who want to continue to move in.

Already the mines in Nottinghamshire are 40 per cent. overmanned. Many of these miners have already lived through massive changes. Miners in my constituency have moved from Scotland to the north-east, to Yorkshire and then to Nottinghamshire. Others have come from Wales. The largest group of miners in my area comes from the same part of the country as I come from—the north-east.

Legislation of this sort cannot help the coal industry. Conservative Members say that the Government have done a great deal for the industry. I point out to them that in 1984 34,000 people were employed by the industry in Nottinghamshire; that number has fallen to about 13,000, and there will be more redundancies after yesterday's announcement. If this is the sort of support that the Government can offer, I hope that they never give it to the people in my locality because it will wipe them off the face of the map.

Legislation like this offers little succour to the people of my area where the following collieries have either closed or been run down: Mansfield, Rufford, Budworth, Clipston, Sherwood, Warsop and Ollerton. These mines have either been wiped out or had their work forces scattered throughout the country, discarded by the policies of the Government.

Tonight we are being asked again to believe that the Government see a future for coal. They see no future for it; their actions of the past few years show that. Ever since the 1984–85 strike, the Government have set out vindictively to attack the industry, to wipe it out, and to switch to alternative methods of energy production, such as gas.

This House must wake up. Some Conservative Members occasionally vote against the Government on measures to privatise the ports—measures which affect miners in places such as the north-east and Yorkshire. I ask them to stand four square with us now, before a general election takes place, and to tell their party that enough is enough for the coal mining areas of Britain. Those areas have turned the industry around; their pits are now profitable.

I do not want to be asked any more by Tory Members where we were on the night of such and such a Bill. I was here on the night of the important privatisation vote and I noted that Conservative Members had disappeared from the face of the earth. Some of them were in private parties drinking champagne and eating salmon at the expense of the entrepreneurs, who thus encouraged them to vote through their legislation——

I will not. The hon. Gentleman has intervened about 20 times already tonight.

With the Government forcing through legislation such as this, coal has no future. It is all very well for Tory Members to smile—many of them are solicitors and barristers and textile owners. Some of them, however, represent coal-mining areas or constituents who travel to work in pits outside their constituencies, and if they vote for this Bill they are voting against the interests of their own constituents.

7.55 pm

I am happy to rejoin the debate. I think that the record shows that my Committee attendance and attendance in debates of this sort have been good over the years. I regret that I was not able to take part in the short 10-hour Committee stage of this Bill. During two of the Committee's sittings I was giving evidence before a Committee of the House of Lords on behalf of my constituents, and the clash of times was unpredictable. I tried to extricate myself from the problem when I saw the clash coming. In any case, I apologise for my absence, not to the Tories but to the Labour party, because there would have been a place for another Labour Member on the Committee.

I am not defensive about this and the experience of the Committee would not have changed my position. On the other hand, I fear I would not have made a decisive difference; there was no vote in which my vote would have won the day for the forces of light and progress. Nevetheless, it would have been good to join in the detailed debate, especially that on the 1908 legislation and the repeal of that Act at which the Government are aiming.

As I said on Second Reading, I was brought up in a coal mining area—in south Wales—from the age of eight onwards. I first went down a mine in my teens, since when I have felt a large measure of solidarity with the industry.

There are two main challenges for the industry. In the short term, we must ensure that the industry is competitive. In the long term, we must make sure that it is environmentally acceptable compared with its competitors.

One of the difficulties that underlies the debate is that the Government have had no long-term plan for coal. But, as many hon. Members said on Second Reading, there is now a hidden agenda. It is no good lurching from secret report to leaked report to released report to consultative report suggesting that the industry can survive with 14, 12, 10 or six pits—or with any enormously reduced number of pits that is in prospect. Whole areas of the country have been deprived of mining altogether—for example, Kent in the south-east, and Wales. which is down to a trinity of mines. Large parts of the east midlands have lost many pits, as has Scotland.

In short, the Government have had no policy. I share with the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) the feeling that the people who live in the mining communities of Britain have felt betrayed because there has been no strategic plan either for them or their industry—and that has been the major weakness.

To preserve the industry we need to ensure that it has an ever cleaner future. We have the technology to do that; this country's technology for clean coal is probably the best in the world, so there is no reason why we should not be as commercially competitive as other countries.

The Government have failed to encourage the future of the industry by the twin lack of investment resources and the political will. Of course there must be competition. Of course the industry must financially hold its own. But it must do so within a plan for energy in which it can justify its existence against other energy sources.

The Government appear to have no better arguments on their working hours proposals now than they had on Second Reading. Since Second Reading arguments about the merits of the Bill have not changed. There has been no amendment of the Bill and no suggestion that the Government's arguments are more justified. The contrary is the case, because immediately after Second Reading the Social Affairs Commissioner of the European Community said that the purpose of the Community proposals was to strengthen protection for people at work and not to replace adequate protection by an inferior system. That was made clear from Brussels a day or two after our debate in November.

An Act which was passed at the beginning of the century and which stipulates a seven-and-a-half hour day for underground workers should not be replaced until there is a secure alternative. On Second Reading the Secretary of State admitted, and it has been conceded since, that no better alternative has yet been negotiated. The Government seem to be following a 'legislate first, think later' policy.

Anyone who has been clown a coal mine will know that coal mining requires the best safety strategy. The offshore oil industry is in the same category. Such protection is most needed when people are suffering from tiredness at the end of a shift. It is important to make sure that they have the protection for which experience has shown we should legislate.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), a former Solicitor-General, said that legally there is no current argument for change. I would add that there is no current argument for a change in the context of our obligations within the Community. It is a con to argue that we have to give in now. We can wait, and if we do not it can only mean that the Government want to prepare the way for a privatisation that they have not yet announced.

The Bill allows more money to be given to communities that will suffer from a reduction in jobs. That, too, can wait because the amount presently allowed is sufficient. The Government will not play their partnership role in the Community by taking RECHAR money. That is ridiculous and sad. The money has been allocated by a partnership of which Britain is a member. It is a fund on which countries can draw and Britain, unlike Spain, Germany, France and Belgium, is not deriving any benefit from it. Why should we join a club if occasionally we cannot take out as well as put in, especially when it is needed? The Government's commitment to these people, let alone the industry, is questionable.

One of our amendments would have raised the issue that such matters could properly be debated and decided within the regions and nations of Britain--Scotland, Wales and England. If it was left to the Scots and the Welsh to legislate for the coal industry in their countries, there would be a different result. We would probably hear a political voice that better understood and was more sympathetic to and representative of the industry and its communities.

There is a danger that the Government will bring to the coal industry the consequences that another announcement in the past few days has brought to the steel industry in Scotland. There will be privatisation and then a washing of hands when the industry in key parts of the country is closed. I am afraid that we shall have to return to this issue. Perhaps the Government will get the legislation through in this Session, but it will not be the last word.

After the election, people who work in different sectors of the energy industry will expect a far more intelligent and strategic plan for their industry. As part of that, coal must be retained as a national asset and resource. We should be proud of it and allow it to he exploited as part of the energy industry as a whole. Of course we will want to open up the industry rather than have a public monopoly replaced by a private one to allow for competition. Only real denationalisation is acceptable, but I anticipate that the Government will not go down that road either.

Whatever the ownership of the industry, it must have a proper and secure future. It is possible to clean up the technology, for coal should be a reserve upon which we may need to continue to draw. In social terms, it is desirable to be able to encourage the continuance of the industry in certain parts of the country. All these arguments appear in this place to be falling on deaf ears. They certainly do not fall on deaf ears in the coalfield communities because people there know that the Government have no strategic plan for them or their industry. Sadly, it seems that this Government want such people to be thrown even more on the mercy of competition without protection, and that is unsatisfactory. The Opposition parties will be united in voting against Third Reading tonight.

8.6 pm

I have listened to the debate with some amazement. I am not surprised that Labour will oppose the Bill, because the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who led for the Opposition, does not have a mine in his constituency and has probably never been down one. I do not think that he understands the problems that face a mining community, especially one in which mines are being run down and people have to face redundancy. The miners should understand and be told in firm terms why the Opposition oppose the Bill. I shall certainly tell them.

Let us examine Labour's record on collieries. In 1965, there were 483 collieries and in 1980 there were 211. About 250 pits disappeared under the Labour Government, and the miners did not have the benefit of the redundancy terms that we have offered. They did not have the opportunity of proper compensation to cover the loss of the job and to enable them to look for other work. Voting against the Bill will deny redundant miners that right to proper compensation. Miners should know that they will not get Labour's support for proper recompense.

A loss of jobs is seen as inevitable when we look realistically at the mining industry and at the future market for coal. In 1965, about 184 million tonnes of coal were consumed. In 1990, consumption was 108 million tonnes. There is less demand for coal because there has been an increase in other forms of energy. There is no point in supporting mines which produce coal that is not required. That is the economics of the madhouse. Perhaps we would expect the Labour party to pursue those economics, but no legitimate Government facing the situation realistically could support them.

It is all very well for Labour Members to talk as they do, and attack the Government, but the Labour party closed pits when it was in power; it cut the numbers of pits by half in the 1960s and 1970s. Apparently, that was nothing more than a realistic approach to the market place.

I represent the south Leicestershire coalfield, where, as I have frequently said in this House, mining has declined. Indeed, deep mining has been reduced to zero—nigh on every mine in my constituency has now been closed. That has happened in the natural course of events, with the exhaustion of the pits. There is no more coal that could properly be extracted by deep-mining methods, and the miners have accepted that.

However, the miners could look forward to the fact that not one of them would be forced to lose his job. Other jobs were available and so, rightly, were adequate—indeed, generous—redundancy terms. The miners accepted those terms. I have spoken to many of them; they were grateful and considered the terms generous.

The miners made good use of the redundancy money. Many of them have set up their own businesses, and many have prospered. I could tell Labour Members in confidence the names of many of those who have done so.

British Coal Enterprise Ltd., too, put large amounts of money into the area, to support new industries so that work and new jobs would be available to people who had lost their jobs. All that was very welcome, and it represented a realistic approach to regenerating the area. The generous redundancy terms and the regeneration of the area helped to turn it around, so that people could find alternative employment. It helped people who were losing their jobs and those who, having taken their redundancy money, wanted to go their own way, to start businesses of their own and join enterprise Britain. That was a most successful approach.

The Bill does no more than that. It is virtually a criminal act for the Labour party to deny that opportunity to miners in north-west Leicestershire and elsewhere, who face the closure of their pits as the whole industry is rationalised. I condemn the Labour party for that. It is quite wrong to deny that opportunity to others.

We have only to look at the figures that I mentioned in an earlier intervention to realise that the repeal of the Coal Mines Regulations Act 1908 will not affect the number of accidents in coal mines. The statistics are against the idea.

In 1960, there were 316 fatalities in a work force of about 694,000—one in 1,700. At that time, productivity was 310 tonnes per man year—1·42 tonnes per man shift. In 1970, there were 92 fatalities—one in 3,000. That figure is still too high. By then, productivity had almost doubled, at 2·24 tonnes per man shift—471 tonnes per man year. In 1980, there were 39 fatalities—one in 5,000. That is a far more acceptable figure. Productivity had risen to 132 tonnes per man shift—479 tonnes per man year.

Then came the dramatic change. Nineteen-eighty was the time when new methods and machinery were coming in. No longer did the man at the pit face have his pickaxe in his hand and work by the sweat of his brow—to use a phrase so often used by Labour Members. By 1990, there were 11 fatalities—one in 5,000. Productivity had doubled to 4·7 tonnes per man shift—1,181 tonnes per man year. That was an enormous and dramatic change.

Over the past 30 years, we have seen productivity more than trebled and the number of fatalities halved. It is important to remember that all that took place while the 1908 Act was in force. One would have thought that such a dramatic increase in productivity would be reflected in the number of accidents, if accidents are caused by a person overworking and exhausted under ground. But over the same period, there was a dramatic reduction in accidents, so the figures do not bear out the Labour party's argument.

The 1908 Act is a piece of restrictive legislation. That is why the Labour party wants to keep it. Labour Members always bury their heads in the sand; they cannot move with the times and cannot bear any change, so they bring up every argument they possibly can to deny and denounce that change. They do not want to see increased productivity or flexibility, or any improvement in the way in which industries are run.

That is the picture that we have seen for years. The enormous increases in productivity have taken place in the teeth of opposition from the Labour party. That means that it does not care about the coal industry—[Interruption.] Oh yes, it is true. Labour Members may laugh and try not to listen, but a coal industry doing well means high productivity and an industry that makes profits—an industry of which we can be proud.

Let us look at the financial position—the bottom line of profit or loss in the industry. In 1980, the industry was losing £159 million, but by 1990 there was a bottom-line profit of £78 million—a turnround in the industry. I should have thought that those figures would make the people who work in the industry proud of it.

I remember that in 1983 miners came to ask me about privatisation and I spelled it out to them—[Interruption.] I shall continue, despite the interjections from Opposition Members. I told the miners that privatisation would mean pit closures, that it would mean getting British Coal into shape, and that there would be no question of privatisation until the coal industry was in the sort of shape that would make people want to invest in it. I asked them whether they would want to invest in an industry which, in those days, was losing £485 million a year. They said no. I asked, "Are you proud to be part of that industry? Do you think that it is a good thing to be a member of an industry that is being subsidised at a rate of £2 million or £3 million per annum?" They said, "No, it does not make us proud." I told them that the Conservative party and the Government were determined to bring the coal industry into shape and to make it a highly productive, profit-making industry of which they could be proud.

All the steps that the Government have taken over the years, in the teeth of opposition, have been taken to make the coal industry a good industry of which we can be proud. We are now reaching the stage at which we can be proud of the industry. That is what the Bill is all about: it is part of a continuing process that has been taking place over a number of years to put the industry in good shape, and there is a lot more to do.

What does the Labour party want for the industry? Labour Members say that they want to maintain the coal industry at about its present size. It is almost impossible to meet that target in an industry that has declined as the coal industry has declined over the years. The figures speak for themselves. In 1970, consumption stood at 150 million tonnes: it is now 108 million tonnes. That has happened naturally, and the Labour party simply cannot do what it seeks to do. With the increasing use of gas to generate power, there is bound to be a reduction in the use of coal by the power generators.

As we have seen, the increased use of gas and, indeed, nuclear energy, has improved the environment, and any reversal of the process can only be at the expense of the environment. That may well be unacceptable not only to Britain but to other countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world, which also have a say in the state of our environment. The world is not our world; it is one world, and the environment concerns everyone.

The Labour party's protectionist policy would also be unworkable. Throughout my time in the House, the Opposition have fought tooth and nail to restrict coal imports. But as long as the United Kingdom remains part of the European Community and is a signatory to the general agreement on tariffs and trade, Labour simply cannot succeed in that.

Labour's plans would mean higher electricity prices because, in pursuing them, a Labour Government would be dismantling the competitive market, damaging British industry and hurting the most vulnerable part of our society, perhaps at a time when it is at its most vulnerable.

All in all, Labour's plans for coal are damaging to industry and the environment and would be impossible to implement, despite all the histrionics that we see from Labour Members. Moreover, it would be illegal to put those plans into effect unless we left the Common Market and turned our back on the GATT talks. In spite of all that, Labour persists in its opposition to the Bill, denying people the right to generous redundancy terms when the closure of the mines is inevitable.

The Opposition should stop being little Englanders. They talk about embracing Europe, yet they seem to believe that those who work in the mines of Germany and northern France are not subject to the same safety regulations as British miners. They believe that European miners do not have almost exactly the same terms of employment as ours, that European mines do not have the same safety record as we have, and that European countries do not care about their workers.

All that is tripe and nonsense. Membership of the European Community has taught us a great deal, and we have learnt a great deal. We have changed our practices, and there have been enormous improvements in Britain, as a result of our membership of the European Community. I have every faith that they know as much over there about the safety of coal mines as we do, and that they know enough about appropriate hours of work to produce a directive acceptable to us all. We shall look at that directive; we are a party to the negotiation of that directive. Why on earth should our miners work different hours from those in Germany or be subject to different rules from those in France?

The reason why there is some worry about the directive is that it may require shorter rather than longer hours. That would undoubtedly be for safety reasons, and I certainly feel that I could go along with the view of those civilised and sensible countries of Europe and that the directive that is finally worked out will be acceptable to us all. Why should we be any different from the rest? The Bill does no more than to ensure that we are not, and that is why it has my support.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the Third Reading debate does not have to finish at 10 o'clock, and will you send a message to the Government Whips saying so? The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) spoke for 20 minutes. Opposition Members propose to stay here until we have made our speeches, and filibustering such as that in which the hon. Gentleman engaged will not stop us speaking. The bloke who has just spoken had better tell those on his own Front Bench and his own Whips, when we are here after 10 o'clock, that it is because of him.

There is a 10 o'clock business motion, on which the question will be put if the debate continues. It will be for the House to decide whether to accept the motion.

8.27 pm

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) that I shall be brief.

We have heard a considerable amount about restructuring from Conservative Members but, sadly, as we discovered in the Committee and have heard today, the Bill has little to do with restructuring as most people understand that word. It is about closing down the coal mining industry, not about its revival, regeneration or future.

In Committee, the Under-Secretary accepted that there was nothing in the present Bill or in earlier legislation to prevent moneys being used under the Coal Industry Acts to create new employment in the coal industry. The schedule to the Coal Industry Act 1987 is not restrictive in that respect. I should be surprised, however, if a penny of the money provided under the 1987 Act or the Bill will go to creating new jobs in the coal industry. The Bill is about creating new jobs, if new jobs are created, in other areas of industry. In my part of the world, such jobs have often been created in the service industries—in supermarkets and do-it-yourself shops and other consumer activities. Little of the money has gone into manufacturing and none has gone into trying to develop other areas of production and other mines that can produce more coal.

Part of the problem has been that, to put it mildly, the Government have had no commitment to the mining industry, and British Coal, taking its cue from the Government, has had little imagination and has suffered low morale on the subject of the industry's future development.

We have heard about Europe and about what is likely to happen in 1992. The Department of Trade and Industry has undertaken publicity campaigns about opportunities arising in Europe as a result of the removal of barriers. However, very little is said about the opportunities for coal. We hear very little about the fact that the German coal industry will be drastically reduced in size—sadly for the German miners. The European Commission is taking on the German Government and the German coal industry because of artificially high prices. By the end of the 1990s, the German Government and the European Commission may reach agreement that the size of that industry should be reduced drastically; or, at the end of the day, the Commission and the Court may take action. In any case, Britain will have potentially the largest and most productive coal industry in the whole of the European Community. But, as I have said, we hear very little about the market opportunities in Europe.

We constantly hear the objections. We are told that gas is now the main fuel and that it is much cheaper than coal. In some cases it is cheaper, but in others it is not. Indeed, there is very little difference between the prices of the two types of fuel. Of course it must be accepted that, in terms of the construction of power stations, the current technology gives gas a slight edge. However, that may not always be so. Anyway, does Europe want to rely heavily on gas?

We know that almost two thirds of the gas that is used in Germany comes from Siberia, and there are plans to increase the production and sale of Siberian gas. But what about the existing and potential political problems arising from such heavy reliance on the import of gas from what is now Russia and used to be the Soviet Union? Gas is not the complete answer. There have to be two, three or four fuels. Clearly, gas will be the No. 1 fuel, but that does not mean that we should be so defeatist as not to regard coal as a close competitor.

We are told that coal is terribly damaging to the environment, but such problems can be solved. Whatever is burned whether coal or anything else—produces CO2. A leading expert on the environment has said that the real danger of global warming, the real danger to the ozone layer, comes from the three Cs. Not one of them is coal; they are cows, cars and chainsaws, which, apparently, cause the greatest damage in terms of carbon dioxide, global warming and the ozone layer.

Of course there are difficulties, but why should we concentrate on them? Problems arise in all sorts of ways, but, with the necessary will and belief, they are not insurmountable. It must be realised that we cannot rely on a single fuel, whether gas, oil or anything else. There is a place for the coal industry. We accept, of course, that we will never again have an industry the size of that of the pre-1950 days. However, the market is there, as are the technology and the skills; what we need is the will. But if there is further deterioration the skills will disappear.

I want to refer briefly to the west Wales anthracite coalfield. This is a classic example of the way in which British Coal and the Government have used no imagination in the development of markets. Anthracite is to be found almost exclusively in my constituency and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). There is only one pit left. However, the headquarters, where all the decisions are taken, is in Nottingham. I have nothing against Nottingham, which is a very nice city, has a very good university, and no doubt contributes to the economy of Britain. But why on earth should the fate and the future of the west Wales anthracite coalfield be decided in Nottingham? There is no anthracite anywhere else—none in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, the Midlands. Poland is the closest place where it can be found.

I went to see the previous chairman of British Coal and asked him why he would not set up a small mines division. In the new market-oriented society, it could be called a company. Whatever it was called, it could be allowed, as part of British Coal, to develop the west Wales anthracite coalfield. Because of the geology, the mines are small. But the former chairman thought that I was talking complete nonsense. Why should we not have a small company? Why should this operation in Wales be run from Nottingham? It is quite right that we should seek inward investment from Japan and other places all over the world, but we should look to the possibilities of developing this asset in west Wales. Development could be gradual; I am not suggesting anything very dramatic. Local people could be provided with an economic centre.

Then there is the question of opencast mining. In this case, the south Wales headquarters is not very far from my constituency. Why should opencast operations be put into one division? Here I am referring to anthracite. Why should decisions in respect of opencast operations be made in one area, and decisions in respect of deep-mined or drift-mined coal be made in another—Nottingham? Why should we not have one anthracite division for the whole of west Wales?

By that means, a balance could be maintained between opencast operations and drift-mining operations. At present 80 per cent. of the coal is produced through opencast operations—with all the environmental problems that that entails—and only 20 per cent. through drift-mining or deep-mining operations. The division that I suggest could have its headquarters in my constituency or in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen. That would be the rational thing to do.

It would indeed be restructuring. Anyway, the economy of that little area would benefit, and new technology and scientific bases could be developed. We could have research into new uses for anthracite. Constituencies like mine require such involvement and investment.

Neither the Government nor British Coal has the answer. That being the case, my plea is directed to my Front-Bench colleagues. In a few months' time my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) will become Secretary of State for Energy. I put him and my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) on notice that the Department of Energy will have on its doorstep a deputation lobbying for a separate anthracite division or company within British Coal to deal with both opencast mining and drift mining and to take advantage of the new technology. My area needs economic development, and we should not be looking constantly for outside investment. We all know that, in the event of recession in other parts of the world, inward investment disappears. I am sure that my hon. Friend is listening, and I am confident that my suggestion will be acted upon.

8.38 pm

I shall make a short speech, as it is almost too much to hope that Conservative Members will in any way criticise the foolish and short-sighted policies being pursued by the Government. It would be foolish to hope that supporters of the Government will recognise that current policies are contrary to the national interest. However, as a perennial optimist I hope that some Conservative Members will agree that the Government are acting irresponsibly by changing firm policies announced in the present Parliament by the Secretary of State for Energy—and doing so without offering explanation, excuse or reason. Ministers simply take the view that, if they ignore these charges, they will go away.

In November 1988, the Secretary of State for Energy gave me an assurance that, during this Parliament, there would be no privatisation, and no preparation for privatisation, of the coal industry. He gave my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) an assurance that during this Parliament there would be no change in legislation on mining safety. The Government know that those commitments were clearly given, but they have not offered a single word of regret, remorse or explanation for their dramatic shift in policy. When the Secretary of State for Energy in 1988 gave those commitments, he gave them to the House and the country, and if they are to be withdrawn or changed, the House and the country are entitled to explanations. There is no good explanation.

That is not the only reason why I am deeply disturbed about the industry. I am concerned because other things have happened that have led people to lose faith in the Government and in British Coal. To illustrate the need for more funds to be given so that British Coal can remedy the injustices that have already occurred, I shall refer to the outrageous experiences of one redundant miner. I refer to my constituent, Mr. L. Marsh. British Coal has claimed that everyone who has left the industry has become redundant voluntarily. They have, but British Coal has been unscrupulous in seeking to ensure that people volunteer for redundancy.

Many of my constituents and many people in the mining areas generally have served as regulars in the armed forces. There is an established pattern. Mr. Marsh served in the Royal Air Force for a long time, until he reached the age when he could draw his pension. He then worked for British Coal for a considerable time, until his place of work closed and he was offered redundancy. When he was counselled, he was advised that his redundancy payment from British Coal would be in addition to the pension that he received from the Royal Air Force. On the grounds of that assurance, Mr. Marsh accepted redundancy. After his redundancy, he learned that the advice that he had been given by British Coal was wrong and that he would draw his redundancy payment less his Royal Air Force pension.

If, like many of his contemporaries, Mr. Marsh had gone down the pit at 16, his pension from British Coal would have been much higher than the amount that he currently receives. The fact that Mr. Marsh served his country and gave good service to the Royal Air Force and to British Coal has cost him a lot of money. Mr. Marsh is a bitter man and, as his Member of Parliament, I am bitter about the fact that, when I took up this matter with Ministers and with British Coal, they did not reply to the fact that my constituent had been wrongly advised. British Coal has a moral responsibility to put things right in Mr. Marsh's case. I hope that it will begin to do so following my speech. I have had to make these representations because Mr. Clarke of British Coal and Ministers should have recognised that that responsibility exists. It does exist, and I hope that it will be exercised.

Hon. Members will be aware that I represent in this House the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers, but I also represent Silverwood colliery. When I read the leaked Rothschild report and saw that Silverwood was not one of the 14 collieries that had been identified as likely to survive, I was astonished. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) knows, there is rivalry between Maltby colliery in his constituency and Silverwood in mine, but he and other hon. Members may also he aware that for a long time Silverwood has been one of this country's most profitable collieries. The explanation for its exclusion can only be that, when Rothschild examined the industry, Silverwood was not making very much money because it was investing in opening up new faces. Shortly after the leak of the Rothschild report, Silverwood again began to make a lot of money—because its investment had come to fruition.

Before Christmas, Silverwood colliery produced its millionth tonne of coal. It produced 1 million tonnes of coal once before—in the mid-1980s—[Interruption.] That is not very many years ago. I am talking about what has happened while the Government have been in office. Just before the last election, Silverwood produced I million tonnes of coal with 1,500 men on its books. Last year it produced I million tonnes of coal again, but with 800 men on its books. That enormous increase in productivity is astonishing. One would have thought that British Coal would be overjoyed, but that achievement received only a passing reference in Coal News. Silverwood colliery has recently smashed further records. The latest output per man shift figures are astonishing—53 tonnes of coal per man shift at the face, with the overall output per man shift at the colliery being almost 10 tonnes. Those figures should put British Coal firmly on the slate.

If the Government and the electricity industry recognised that coal from heavy duty faces can pour out to ensure that Britain remains self-sufficient in energy, thus avoiding the enormous balance of payments deficits that will apply if the contraction of the industry continues for much longer, they would congratulate rather than threaten Silverwood. Silverwood has not been included in the list of 14. That list of 14 has not been increased to a list of 15.

I am not involved in the arrangements to protect Mr. Edwards, but if some of British Coal's board members are to be removed, I would suggest certain gentlemen other than Mr. Edwards, who has been committed to achieving a viable coal industry while some of his colleagues seem committed to the cause of privatisation whatever the future size of the industry, provided only that a few profitable pits remain and that they make a lot of money. I should prefer the national interest to be served. I have far more respect for people like Mr. Lawson, the manager at Silverwood, and for Granville Richardson, the union secretary at Silverwood, who rejoice in the success of their pit because they believe that they are serving not only themselves but their country.

That endeavour and success is not properly appreciated by British Coal, although it was appreciated at the pit. Although I share many of my constituents' aspirations, I do not share their taste in music. The colliery tannoy plays records, and on the day that it passed its millionth tonne of coal everyone at Silverwood colliery was singing a popular record that had been made by a lady called Tina Turner. I do not recognise the record myself——

I should not dream of singing it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Everybody at the colliery was singing Tina Turner's record, "Simply the Best", because they believed that they were the best. British Coal should have recognised that they were the best. It should not be left to a bunch of merchant bankers or a crowd of short-sighted politicians——

Merchant bankers—[Interruption.] I said "merchant bankers", Mr. Deputy Speaker, and "merchant bankers" was what I meant. The miners at Silverwood should not be left to sing "Simply the Best" alone, because we should all recognise that they have achieved coal production figures which are among the best in Europe.

The 1908 legislation was enacted because of experience in the industry. If I had had the chance to speak in our last coal debate just before Christmas, I should have said that that day marked the anniversary of a disaster at a colliery called Warren Vale, in my constituency. That small colliery suffered three separate disasters and that date just before Christmas marked the anniversary of the largest. Of the 73 people who were employed below ground at Warren Vale, 53 were killed in that disaster. Such disasters led to the 1908 Act. If the legislation had been due simply to economics, the coal owners would have welcomed it instead of approaching it reluctantly.

Many people, including Ministers, say that that legislation is no longer relevant and that it is ignored. However, the fact that it still exists means that a man who is tired and who has gone to work to protect his own and his colleagues' bonuses will not be forced to stay at his place of work in a state of exhaustion or lack of alertness. He has a degree of protection that the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers, which has made an enormous contribution to achieving safety in the mining industry, recognises as necessary.

Conservative Members have said that the Bill is necessary if our legislation is to match European provisions. What is the reality in Europe? In Spain, the hours of work are governed by statute, and I understand that they are seven and three quarter hours plus winding time. In Germany, where they are also regulated, they are seven and a half hours. There is no mining industry in Europe which forces its men to work the hours desired by the Department of Energy and the top brass in Hobart house, who never seem to face the same threat of redundancy as those in the mining areas. What we are told about the European pattern is fallacious. The Minister may comment on it in his reply to the debate.

The mining industry in Britain has achieved, at a bitter price to the mining community, enormous improvements in productivity. If the rest of British industry had achieved the rates of productivity at Silverwood and many other collieries, including some which have closed recently, the country's economic condition would be a great deal better.

We do not hear Conservative Members questioning support for nuclear power. There was a statement this afternoon on environmentally sensitive areas. We do not hear Conservative Members talking about the support given to some millionaire landowners to bribe them to serve the environment. Some of us have been serving the environment without any need for bribery.

The coal industry is being singled out. The South Yorkshire area headquarters used to be in my constituency. Then it was moved to Doncaster. When I wanted to talk to somone there this morning, I had to telephone Allerton Bywater, to the west of Leeds, which is not even in my former county. That is the effect of Government policy.

Those who want to see pits closed may seek to draw comfort from the fact that they can pay some money to miners to accept redundancy, but Conservative Members must understand that, although that may help to cushion individual miners, it is putting an almost intolerable burden on local authorities and the communities which have to face the waste of environmental dereliction and the destruction of the employment base.

8.51 pm

Unlike the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), I propose to be brief, because other hon. Members wish to speak; not least among them is my neighbour, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who has been getting increasingly restive throughout the debate.

I have sat through the debate and I still find it difficult to understand the Opposition's objection to clause 2. They say that safety will be compromised. I listened to the Minister's opening remarks and he made it clear that clause 2 will not come into effect until the EC directive is in place. There is no suggestion that the 1908 Act gives greater protection than the EC directive. Therefore, for the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to talk about children going down the mines, and for the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) to talk about women going down the pits is unrealistic. It is scaremongering, and I reject it.

When the Bill becomes law, and the restructuring under clause 1 has taken place, it will mean that, during the tenure of office of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the taxpayer will have paid £7,000 million to the industry. I yield to no one in my respect and affection for his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), but no previous Secretary of State has achieved the record of my right hon. Friend.

The industry should be on a solid, commercial footing after the implementation of the Bill and should be able to go out and win contracts. The transformation has been achieved without a single compulsory redundancy over the past 12 years. No comparable industry can claim such a record. At the same time, unit costs have been cut by 40 per cent. in real terms.

The Government are committed to a profitable coal industry. One would not think so when listening to some Opposition Members. Half as many mines have been closed under this Government as during the 11 years of office of the last two Labour Governments. The Government are being realistic about the size of the industry which will be profitable.

The restructuring, coupled with the productivity of the coal miners and of British Coal itself, will bring unit costs down to a level where prices are comparable with those of other fuels, including fuels from abroad. The delivered price of coal to power stations, with security of supply, should enable generators to sign up with British Coal for longer-term contracts from March 1993. I hope that generators will sign for five years rather than three years, because it may not be possible to guarantee long-term supplies of gas. Important coal is certainly not free from exchange rate fluctuations. Against those anxieties, thanks to the Bill and other Government measures, British Coal can deliver virtually on the doorstep of the power stations and it can offer fixed long-term contracts priced in sterling.

I hope that the generators will not take a short-term view. I hope that they will see the Bill as an earnest of the Government's intention to have a viable, long-term coal industry. The generators should weigh the arguments carefully if they are considering rejection of renewal of contracts. I am not asking that they make decisions based on other than commercial common sense. I am asking that they consider that a revitalised coal industry, such as we now have, is at risk of disappearing if they take a short-term view.

The Bill is the key to the industry's long-term future. Opposition Members may use it as an opportunity to indulge in scaremongering although in their hearts I believe that they welcome it. The Opposition obscure the fact that the Rothschild report is not Government policy. They suggest that it is a ramp for privatisation. There is no British Coal or Government plan to reduce pits to a certain number. All that Rothschild did was to speculate how many pits might be viable, given various options and scenarios. Until the renegotiation of the contract with the generators has taken place, it is impossible for Rothschild, British Coal, the Government or the Opposition to say how many pits we will have at the end of the century. The contracts, not the Bill, are the key to the number of pits.

That is a fact of commercial and industrial life. Rather than rubbishing the Bill and spreading disaster and gloom among British Coal's potential customers Opposition Members would do better spending their time urging the generators to renew their contracts and praising the coal miners for their significant advances in productivity over the years. Above all, we should all join in a commitment to a viable, long-term future for the industry. That is what the Bill seeks to bring about.

8.58 pm

Throughout the debate, Conservative Members have referred again and again in somewhat theatrical performances to their amazement that Opposition Members should vote against the Bill. Certainly, when I examined the Bill I found parts that I would support and parts that I would not. The parts that I would not support are the reason why I shall vote against it. There are other parts that I wish to examine in depth.

For example, the Bill says that £3,000 million will be spent between now and 1996. That is open-ended in the sense that it is not clear what the money will be used for. I suspect that some of it will be used for redundancy payments. I support that but I would rather that jobs did not disappear so that there was no need for redundancy payments. Some of the money may also be used to prepare for privatisation. Several of my hon. Friends mentioned that this evening and I suspect that it is part of the Government's proposals.

My hon. Friends and some Conservative Members have said that if the Conservatives formed the next Government they would privatise the mining industry. I warn my hon. Friends that there is something of a fallacy in that because in some areas the industry is either already privatised or well on the way to privatisation. I notice that one of my colleagues from Northumberland, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has entered the Chamber. He will confirm what I am saying. There is a mine in his constituency in which some of my constituents work. British Coal closed it down and it was sold off lock, stock and barrel, including the equipment. It was then opened as a private mine. I do not know whether he is aware, but I am certainly aware, that just before Christmas the employees were laid off because the company could not sell the coal. So there is no great advantage in it being a private mine.

I have in my constituency mining engineering workshops. They have become a private business in the sense that they take outside contracts. I am not sure of the exact position but the workshops have negotiated to manufacture a coal washing and preparation plant for Poland. I understand that the target for this financial year is for the workshops to obtain £1 million worth of private contracts. That is already scheduled.

The connection between the workshops and British Coal is to be broken. For example, the workshops use British Coal's mainframe computer at present. In two or three years the workshops will have their own computer.

They will be free-standing. That is preparation for a sell-off. The workshops will be sold off as a unit with no problems. The contracts will be there. The installation of new facilities and machinery in the workshops will allow someone to buy them out overnight.

I am more worried about the repeal of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908. My knowledge of the stock exchange and conditions of working there is extremely limited. My knowledge of working in a City bank is extremely limited. My knowledge of working in the law courts is extremely limited. But my experience of working in the mining industry covers a period of 39 years. It goes back to before nationalisation.

I have seen the whole pattern right from the days of private ownership. The coal company in my area was probably one of the best in the country but it was still terrible. I experienced the whole programme of nationalisation right through to the present day. I stood at the mine where I worked in 1947 when a board was put up saying, "This mine is now owned by the British people." That was never quite true. The mine was owned by certain people in Britain but not the British people. The people who were in charge under private ownership were also in charge on 2 January 1947. All that happened was that the name remained on the door but the title changed.

So my experience of the mining industry is extensive. I claim some knowledge particularly of safety and discipline in the mining industry. My training was in electrical engineering. Before I came to the House I achieved the position of engineer. My principal role was to ensure safety on the electrical engineering side. I refuse to give dates because I shall give my age away.

It involved an extensive period, from a time when electrical equipment in mines was primitive—in the sense that it was not up to the quality and safety standards expected these days. At that time there were problems because of the risk of explosion which was a danger to workers but things have improved over the years.

Historically, the National Coal Board—as it was—should be congratulated because it put a tremendous amount of investment into improving safety in mining, especially in the electrical side—the discipline in which I was involved. It raised the standard in Britain, which compares with anywhere else in the world.

Part of the problem is the question of the length of the working day and how tired workers are. How is safety affected when people are under stress and have to deal with electrical equipment, perhaps having to repair it and put it back together in the mine? I was never keen on working overtime, and when I was responsible for other people, I was not keen to encourage them to work overtime, especially on electrical equipment.

For example, one Sunday morning there was a breakdown—an electrical fault on the 3,300 volt high tension electrical system. Craftsmen who had been at work for some time and were virtually completing their shift had to begin to re-arrange an electrical circuit. In the process one man was electrocuted. Fortunately, although we thought that he was dead, he was not, but he lost three fingers and about six months at work and was never the same man again when it came to dealing with electrical equipment.

That is a simple example of what can happen in a mine. Mining is particular and peculiar. Once one goes down the shaft, the working conditions are different from those anywhere else. It is not like the stock exchange, a City bank or the law courts. It is quite distinct. Therefore, one must recognise that the stresses and strains and the length of shift are important.

Just after I came to the House there was a debate which went through the night—thank heaven that does not happen too often these days. There was a vote at about 4 o'clock in the morning. I came back into the Chamber where two Conservative Members were sitting on the Bench below the Gangway with their feet stretched out. They looked exhausted, which I could understand. One asked me, "Are you enjoying this?" My response was, "Well, 4 o'clock in the morning is like 4 o'clock in the afternoon to me because I have worked shifts for 30-odd years." I asked him whether he had ever been awake at 4 o'clock in the morning before. I remember that he opened one eye and said, "Yes, twice, at a party." That was the difference between his experience of life and mine.

I know that when people are working with electrical equipment in a mine at 4 o'clock in the morning they must have their wits about them. They may work on a piece of equipment and repair it. Perhaps they are putting the door back on a switch, but if the gap around the door is not the right dimension for safety there can be an explosion. That has happened. That is why the length of shift is important.

I advocate that no one, especially electrical craftsmen, should have to work more than the seven and a quarter or eight hour shift. I confess that on one occasion I worked 24 hours because it was an emergency. The 1908 Act allows for emergencies. On many occasions I have worked more than seven and a quarter hours because of an emergency. The problem that I and everyone else in my discipline faced was that we became so tired that we could not cope properly with the work. Safety is the most important consideration when deciding the length of shift.

With my experience in the mining industry, I cannot advocate that the length of shifts should be extended. I worked at the Ellington colliery which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He may have been down there on a couple of occasions. It is six miles out under the North sea. There is a long journey out and a long journey back—let alone the working time. If there is an accident, such as a man breaking his leg, at the far end of the workings, it is at least two or three hours before the accident victim can get to the surface and then to the hospital. Such factors should be recognised when we talk about the length of the working shift in a mine.

Some miners may be soaking wet the moment that they get down to the mine and they may be soaking wet for the whole shift. Miners can work in an area where there is so much dust and discharge from the blasting that they work in clouds of dust and cannot see more than one foot in front of their face. Such circumstances demand a limit on the working shift, and that is why seven and a quarter hours has been the limit since the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 was introduced. That figure could, in my view, be adjusted to seven and a half hours or to seven, but it should not be altered as proposed in the Bill. The provision in the Bill is open-ended. If the Bill had specifically laid down arrangements for working shifts in the mines, that would be another matter; it does not. The Bill is so open-ended that I cannot support it.

There are 19 private mines in north-east England—in Northumberland, in Durham and in Cumbria. Some are in my constituency. I have a copy of recent correspondence to the National Union of Mineworkers. British Coal suggests:
"The new form of Licence for small mines will come into general use early in 1992. It remains the Corporation's intention to omit any requirement as to the terms and conditions to be applied by Licensees in respect of their employees."
In other words, a worker in a private mine has no protection.

Hon. Members should take the opportunity to visit a private mine, if they are allowed in, to see the working conditions there. Anyone who visits a British Coal mine and who then visits a private mine will be horrified by the conditions there, yet there is now an opportunity to withdraw any protection from private mines.

An interesting document was sent to me, I do not know whether deliberately or by accident, from the Centre for Policy Studies. I am, of course, not a member of the CPS, but I checked through to make sure. The founders of the CPS are the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and Lord Joseph. The patron happens to be the Prime Minister.

The letter offered me the opportunity to attend a conference on 25 February, and the subject of the conference is:
"Competitive Coal: how to privatise coal and compete with imports."
The talk will be given by Colin Robinson and Allen Sykes. The speakers include Neil Clarke, the chairman of British Coal Corporation, who will be there to defend the interests of the corporation, the right hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), Colin Robinson, Crispian Hotson, and Allen Sykes, the co-author of "Competitive Coal". The conference is being held in central London to point out the value of privatising the coal industry.

It is important for me to quote from the document which says:
"Decline in employment need not be greater than in the recent past"
if the mines are privatised. We have lost 100,000 miners and we do not have 100,000 left to lose. The document also says:
"the new and generous redundancy terms must be maintained."
The document deals with private mines and says:
"Existing private miners should be encouraged by removing all restrictions on private mining".
There is a registration fee of £125. That did not put me off, but it would put off any miners who were planning to go to the conference, assuming that they were supporters of the Centre for Policy Studies. Is that not clear evidence of what the whole of this Act is for? The idea of privatising the mining industry is what worries us. I would have been interested in attending the meeting—although I would not be prepared to give them £125, not even £5 or 5p—as an indication of the way things will go under the legislation before us now.

9.14 pm

We have had a fascinating debate. On the Opposition side, we have had all the fire and passion of people who care for the industry, because they have worked in it and know it backwards, while on the Government side we have had a cynical attitude, often filibustering waffle, from lawyers who have the cheek to talk about productivity when it takes a year to get a case to the Old Bailey and we could almost have dug a mine by then. The difference between the two parties has never been more apparent in my long time in the House than it has been tonight. We on this side of the House are talking about jobs and about the experience of our constituents, sold down the river with promises from the Government who have consistently told miners that if they work harder and get the price of coal down they will have nothing to fear. What a load of rubbish it has turned out to be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) talked about Sherwood colliery closing yesterday, not because it is losing money but because it is not making as much money as the others. What we have in the mining industry today is the game of musical chairs, where the music is playing faster and faster, every week a chair is taken away and there are not enough to go round. There is an atmosphere of total fear in the mining industry because miners are competing not against a price or fixed target but against the pits down the road; and no matter how hard they work or what they do, there is no guarantee that next week they will have a job.

Those on the Government Benches are different. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) spoke for 20 minutes about productivity—this from a lawyer. With the money that they earn at the Old Bailey, lawyers have a vested interest in going slow, yet they talk about miners and productivity. I will tell hon. Members about it because I have worked on it, as have many of my friends on the shop floor. We have discovered that the more people produce, the faster they put themselves out of work. That is why we had vested interests and restrictive practices in the first place, right through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s: people remembered the 1930s. If a man thinks, when the boss sets him a task, that it is his last task and that after that there is no more, he will go slow.

However, they have got round the problem in the mining industry by offering £10,000 not to have restrictive practices, encouraging people to grasp the money as fast as they can and put themselves out of work as quickly as possible, because the last thing that they want as they look to a general election is any problem in the mining industry. We have seen it to some extent with the farmers and over-consumption: farmers are being paid £70,000 to watch the grass grow. But the farmers are happy. We never see any empty farms. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) is a farmer. He knows all about subsidies, all about productivity and consumption, but he says one thing for his mining constituents and a very different thing for his farming constituents. He tries to vote both ways. He will soon find out which way they will vote in May.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) is sponsored by NACODS, and he and I have spoken to them; members of NACODS are the foremen, and they should know about productivity and safety. They tell us that what happens now is that the manager says to five or six men that 20 yards have to be dug or the roof lifted or perhaps there is difficult terrain. He says that he wants it done by Monday morning and they negotiate a price: five of them can have two thousand quid if they do it by Monday or perhaps Tuesday morning. The manager more or less tells them to forget about overtime rates or double time for Sundays. He does not say, "Forget about safety." But he does say that they can forget about limited hours down the pit, and shift length, which is what the Bill changes. It has been said already that when people are tired they make mistakes, accidejts happen and the situation becomes dangerous.

If the industry is privatised after the election, those who spend money buying the pits will expect them to be worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It will not be just the miners who are working all the time, but everyone who lives nearby. I have 45 parish councils and I am certain that the hon. Members for Sherwood and for Newark (Mr. Alexander), whose constituency is next to mine, have a similar number. They should be ready for the consequences when the pits start working seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The noise from the lorries and from the tannoys at the pits, as well as the smoke from those pits, will make life horrendous for those living nearby.

Once coal is imported from the new ports, including that at Killingholme, it will be delivered by lorry because that will be cheaper. Therefore, the environment of Nottinghamshire will be destroyed. That will knock thousands and thousands of pounds off the value of homes in the little villages through which the lorries will take short cuts. Those villagers will be Conservative voters. Imported coal will not just cause the closure of pits and put miners out of work; it will destroy the environment of rural areas.

There are two power stations in my constituency. There used to be three, but one is now in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newark as a result of boundary changes. Those power stations will use imported coal. The Government have allowed the import of foreign coal because it has less sulphur content and therefore will not spread acid rain across Europe. If those power stations had been converted into desulphurisation plants, it would have created hundreds of jobs for engineers and so on.

In March 1987, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) told me that the West Burton B power station would be built. That power station would have created 2,500 jobs for construction workers, 800 jobs for those running the power station and would have kept five pits open. The right hon. Gentleman made that promise in March solely to save the seat of the hon. Member for Sherwood at the June 1987 election. Three months after the election, that promised power station vanished and was forgotten. Since then the Government have sold off the electricity industry and the power stations, which have now decided to buy foreign coal.

I will not mention RECHAR, because it has already been mentioned by a number of my hon. Friends. When the Common Market offers big grants to our farmers, the Conservatives grab the money with both hands to give it to their friends. When the Common Market offers big grants to the mining areas to make up for the shortfall in jobs, the Government say, "Oh, no. If the Common Market are going to give us that money, it should go in the general pot." The Common Market has made that cash available for the mining areas, but they have not got it.

Yes, it is. The hon. Gentleman knows that, because of the big power stations at Bassetlaw and in other parts of Nottinghamshire, the region never got any rate support grant. The Government claimed that the rates that we received from the power stations meant that we were above the level eligible for support. Despite all the muck and filth caused by the power stations, we never got a penny for it. When the business rate was introduced, all the money went to London and we got nothing from the poll tax or from revenue support. We still cannot get the RECHAR money. The Government have robbed Nottinghamshire blind of that money.

The hon. Member is an honourable man. I have received a letter from Commissioner Milian in response to my invitation to come to London to meet the Conservative coal group to explain why he would not give us the money. He wrote back to say that it was not a problem of additionality, because that had been agreed. The problem was about how the money should be targeted. So the extra money for the pits has been agreed but Brussels will not give us our money.

It is because the Government are not targeting it. They want it to go into the pot for general use.

It is the argument. My constituency received grants under a Labour Government. People who brought jobs to Bassetlaw received 40 per cent. of the cost of the buildings and 30 per cent. of the cost of the machinery, and the scheme was successful. Within weeks of a Conservative Government coming to office, those grants were taken away and we did not get a penny. The money goes to Corby because it has a Tory Member Parliament and it goes to other places, but it does not come to mining areas in Nottinghamshire, and the hon. Member for Sherwood had never shouted for it either.

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for how I am speaking. Many hon. Members wish to intervene and I am very angry. We are all neighbours, but the hon. Member for Sherwood is simply advising the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to go down a blind alley and invest its money in privatised pits.

It is a serious matter and the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) is laughing.

The hon. Member for Sherwood is advising the UDM to invest its funds in privatised pits if the Tories get back in and privatise the industry. Once they have done so, by 1993, PowerGen and National Power will be giving out contracts for coal. British miners could never compete with 12-year-old kids in Colombia digging coal. They cannot compete with Poland's dumping of coal, or with South Africa. It is nonsense to talk of productivity, extra machinery and extra sweat when there is unfair competition.

Farmers do not have unfair competition. The Government do not let food in from outside the Common Market. The hon. Member for Sherwood is a farmer and he knows that that is true. He speaks with a forked tongue when he advises the UDM to invest in the coal industry. A year after the election, the UDM, if it is foolish enough to invest its money, will have to tell its miners, "We're sorry, lads, you've got to take a pay cut because we cannot get our coal down to Polish and South African prices".

The hon. Gentleman talked earlier about that very point and I explained it to him. Let us get the record straight. The new contracts will be issued in April 1993 and the privatisation of the coal industry will not be until after that date.

The first thing that a Conservative Government would put in the Queen's Speech would be the privatisation of the coal industry. The hon. Gentleman knows why they would privatise the industry. It would not be for the coal, because that is worth only 3p a tonne under the ground. They would sell it off for the land. They would sell thousands of acres at rock bottom prices next to the railways, roads and canals, and those who bought it would not care tuppence for the coal. The hon. Gentleman knows that. That is the profit in the coal mining industry.

9.27 pm

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling a Staffordshire Member to participate in this friendly debate between the neighbours of Nottinghamshire.

I am pleased to be able to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and to be on his side in a number of arguments, for he is a persuasive and powerful speaker and always speaks with great passion, which I admire. We could do with a bit more passion in this place sometimes. However, able and persuasive as the hon. Gentleman is, he should be doing a damned sight more to persuade Bruce Milian to give us back our money, for Mr. Milian is a former member of the Labour party.

Conservative Members entirely share Labour's belief that that money is necessary for parts of our country that have suffered difficulties as a result of the contraction of the coal industry. We share that view but believe that Opposition Members should try to bring pressure to bear not on the British Government, who have done everything they have been called on to do, but on Bruce Millan, who was a Minister of the Crown and knows exactly how procedures for public financing operate in this country. He is simply playing a miserable game of party politics.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) is not here at present. but she has an important interest in the Cannock Chase district council region, as do some of my constituents—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is she?"] I do not know where the hon. Lady is or whether she intends to participate in the debate. She has an interest, as does Cannock Chase district council—which partly covers my constituency—in ensuring that we receive the RECHAR moneys to help the Lea Hall miners, some of whom are my constituents.

I think that the outside world will take a dim view of the way in which Opposition Members are attacking the Government and, perhaps, the way in which some Conservative Members then counter-attack the Labour party. Hon. Members should be united in ensuring that the European bureaucrats give us back our money. My hon.

Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) made it perfectly plain that Ministers have done their bit arid that Bruce Millan has accepted that.

I do not wish to spend all night considering RECHAR, which is not within the scope of the Bill. I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson). As a child, I lived in Hamburg, and I always associate Wansbeck with a suburb of Hamburg; perhaps one day I shall find the other Wansbeck that the hon. Gentleman represents.

I listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that all hon. Members salute the contribution that he has made to raising technical standards, thus placing the British coal industry among the front runners in the world, if not the very best in the world. The hon. Gentleman said that he started in the private sector of the coal industry, and I am sure that he is looking forward with me to being able to end his active days, before a long and happy retirement, with the coal industry back in private hands.

How right the hon. Gentleman was when he said that the mine at which he worked was not owned by the British people. The mines that are today owned by British Coal are not owned by the British people, but after the next election they will be, because the mines will be in private hands again.

I was privileged to be called in the debate on Second Reading. I have reread my speech, which I thought was good at the time, and wish to repeat only one part of it.

I am sorry that the Bill does not extend further, perhaps to encourage the present private sector of the coal industry by lifting still further the limits on opencast mining and on the number of miners allowed to work underground in private pits.

The hon. Member for Wansbeck talked about private mines, and encouraged us o visit them. The problem with private mines is simply that they are allowed to employ so few people that it is impossible to make them as viable as the much larger pits operated by British Coal. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the private sector is more viable than at present.

Such debates as this tend to have a predictable pattern. It is astonishing that the Labour party, which judges so much of our national life by the amount of public money spent, comes to the House and says that it will vote against a Government measure that commits a further massive slug of public money to the coal industry. The British people, particularly those in the mining industry, will view the Labour party's attitude with amazement. It is interested only in input, not output, and since 1979 the Government have made brilliant progress within the coal industry, according to every principle that the Labour party holds dear.

Every hon. Member with a mining constituency knows full well that the miners he represents have enjoyed the benefits of massive investment in safer and more productive equipment—money invested on the taxpayers' behalf by this Government. [Interruption.] I think that I heard the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) mutter from a sedentary position that he believes that. He is right about that, if about nothing else. I certainly believe strongly what I am saying, and I believe that the Labour party is making a big mistake by voting against a measure such as this, which will contribute yet more public money to the coal industry.

Asfordby pit, which is intended to be fully operational by the end of next year, is now in its £290 million development stage. It is an example of the Government investing money to make the British coal industry not only more profitable but safer. The roof-bolting technique is employed in that pit. It is a key technique that I have discussed with constituents, and it is making an enormous contribution to rendering the coal industry more productive.

British Coal hopes that each miner at the pit will produce 18 tonnes of coal per shift compared with the United Kingdom average of five. The costs of production would be rather more than half British Coal's average of £1·75 per gigawatt, and the coal at that price will compete even with some opencast coal.

This is a good example of the £7·5 billion investment made by the Government to enable the British coal industry to be viable and productive. As the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) said, it is fair to point out that both management and employees have responded in good measure. Let us not forget that productivity increased by 2·5 per cent. under the last Labour Government—that is all. Since 1985 alone, it has increased by 100 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about closures?"] But the miners have accepted those closures, and this Bill represents part of the process by which that productivity increase has been brought about, to the benefit of everyone working in the industry.

In the light of all this, the miners are recognising, as I said on Second Reading, that it is the Conservative party, not the Labour party, which is the miners' friend.

The redundancy terms in the industry are, as my hon. Friend for Newark (Mr. Alexander) said, among the most generous in Europe—and not one compulsory redundancy has been made.

British Coal Enterprise has been funded by the Government to the tune of £70 million, and it has attracted £500 million in private money and created 70,000 new job opportunities—a considerable achievement.

I should like to draw attention to three fundamental socialist contradictions in the Labour party's stance——

Time does not permit me to enumerate more of them.

We debated the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991, and I was able to serve on the Committee that scrutinised the Bill. Labour Members, who claim that they want British Coal to be successful and who talk much about how they represent the industry, wanted in that Committee to impose ever more burdens on the industry.

The Labour party's second contradiction is to be found in its attitude to opencast coal. Labour Members say that they want to promote a successful and prosperous industy. They know that opencast coal has made an enormous contribution to keeping down the cost of coal in general, but at every point they oppose it.

The hon. Gentleman says that it is not true. Perhaps he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and explain that contradiction. I am pleased to hear that he does not take that view, but everywhere I go I find that the Labour party opposes opencast mining.

No, because some other hon. Members did not give way, and I know that some of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends want to speak.

The third contradiction is that Labour's plans for coal conflict directly with its policies on the environment. The Opposition tell the mining unions that they are pledged to force the generators to burn coal at the current level irrespective of the cost and will seek to deter them from using gas for power generation and phase out nuclear power. They know that such policies would massively increase harmful carbon and sulphur dioxide emissions.

They tell the environmental lobby, which knows and tells Labour about such emissions, that Labour is a green party committed to the demanding target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions at their 1990 level by the year 2000. It would be almost impossible for Labour to achieve that target without gas and nuclear power, especially in view of its commitment to maintain the least environmentally friendly fuel. Labour is a party of contradictions, and at some point it will have to explain them to the electorate.

I shall conclude on a point of unanimity, because there is nothing to be gained from engaging in a permanent slanging match. All those who have spoken in the debate, whatever their prospective, have a profound and sincere interest in the coal industry. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) spoke of record productivity at Silverwood, and I am delighted to report the record productivity of Littleton colliery just outside my constituency. It recently managed to reverse a loss of £2·3 million, and the miners brought the pit back to profit. That is a great success.

On Second Reading, I spoke about the risk that the generators were running in opting for an import policy. Because of the time factor, I shall not repeat what I said about the dangers that the generators face. They must be aware that their best interests lie in ensuring a stable supply of quality British coal supplied by highly productive British miners.

9.42 pm

There is much to say and too little time in which to say it. Suffice it to say to start with that the Bill clearly illustrates the Government's myopia. They are quite incapable of lateral thinking. It has rightly been said of the Government that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The problem is that they know only the price today and do not look at the cost tomorrow. They have not put the Bill in a world context.

Coal was king until 1960, at which time gas took over, but early in the next century coal will take over from gas. What preparations have the Government made for that? They have steadily reduced coal production, while in the rest of the world it is steadily increasing. That poses a tremendous threat to our economy, which has deliberately been put in peril by the Government's actions.

The Bill is based purely on short-term economics, and that is unfair to future generations. It does not look to future jobs in coal areas or to future customers for energy. We must bear in mind the fact that the more coal mines we keep open the more we substitute home-produced coal for imports and provide diverse energy resources. That will also mean that we will not be held hostage by one or two fuels or by foreign powers. At the time of the Gulf crisis, we saw how that could happen.

We can see that, unless we start to form European Community policies into a properly channelled energy policy, we shall be in trouble. Because of our regular reliance on outside energy resources, Japanese investment throughout the world will overtake us again, and sink us.

It has been calculated, not unreasonably, that, by the end of the revolution of which the Bill is part, the Government will have shoved down coal production in this country to what it was in 1700. If that is not a retrograde step, I do not know what is. How have they done it? The Government did a clever thing in getting Rothschild to prepare a special report for them, so that they could act upon it.

Why did they choose Rothschild? I asked my friends what skills Rothschild had in mining. Where is its long history in the mining of coal? Nowhere. Why did the Government not ask British Mining Consultants, for example, to write the report? British Mining Consultants knows about coal. Rothschild, perhaps, knows about money—although I would rather have asked William Hill to examine the coal industry than Rothschild, considering how the report turned out.

The Government have done no real research into the use of coal—into clean coal technology, clean coal extraction or coal preservation. I shall take that back, because a very little has been done, in conjunction with the European Community—but not enough has been done to make the research worth while.

Some of the money should hve been put into such research straight away. The Government should be looking for a 20-year profit, and commissioning research that will take us at least 20 years on. Instead, they are saying that they want instant thrills.

In my constituency, the result of that attitude is that they insist on opencast mining at Upton, where every last grubby piece of coal has to be taken away before we can restore the site and make it decent to live with, whereas Aketon, where there is 30 years' of coal left, was closed last year. That was profitable coal, and coal on which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) can confirm, huge sums of money had been spent buying machinery that is now rotting on the site because the Government closed the pit immediately after it was installed. That is a disgrace.

The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 is to be repealed. In 1908, Herbert Gladstone debated with that arch-Tory, F. E. Smith. Smith had a good deal more wit about him than some of the Tory speeches that we have heard today. Nevertheless, he spoke in exactly the same tone—money, money, money, and grubbing, grubbing, grubbing all the way. He never talked about people. Gladstone, who represented Yorkshire at that time, had values based more upon humanity.

It is a shame that the Government have told deliberate lies about directives in order to get us to agree to repeal the 1908 Act. I shall not quote, because of the shortage of time, but the Government statement says that we have to repeal the Act because of the directive. Surely at least one member of the Cabinet must know about directives, and therefore must know that that claim is false and that the directive cannot work in such a way. Indeed, the treaty of Rome explicitly states that directives must not lead to less safe legislation than that which already exists. As Gladstone showed in the original debate, the 1908 Act was about health and safety at work.

It is no good Conservative Members saying, as they have said, that, because the pits are mechanised, there are no longer the problems that used to exist when people used picks and shovels. When people are dog tired, there are worse accidents when there is mechanisation down the pit. Those accidents can be very serious indeed.

A good friend of mine, Steve Kemp, who is the NUM treasurer at Stillingfleet, tells me that they have had to get a new filing cabinet in especially for the compensation claims that are outstanding—some 450, which is a record in his experience—even though Stillingfleet is supposed to be one of the safest pits in the country. Steve Kemp tells me that there is a very simple reason for that, which is that people are not observing the provisions of the 1908 Act. They are doing 30 hours' overtime, and that is leading to tremendous accidents.

We must work, within Europe, towards achieving the ends outlined in the treaty of Rome. We must start to obey European legislation, which the Government are curiously loth to do. They keep telling us that they observe European legislation better than any other country in the Community—but it ain't true. We have been had up before the European Court at Luxembourg more often than any other country for offences under article 119, which deals with equal treatment for women.

The same is true of RECHAR—récharbonisation. We should have that money; it is quite clear. Let me tell the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) that we must demonstrate additionality. Because a number of countries were not demonstrating additionality, notice was given three years ago that it should be shown, and that it should be shown in the areas for which the money was intended. In the case of coal, that cannot possibly be. The money has simply gone into the national Exchequer and, as my hon. Friend said, to support the poll tax in Westminster, where people have never had sight of a coal tip. The Government must stop cheating. At least the Secretary of State for the Environment has admitted to the mistakes of the Cabinet, and it is now up to the Minister responsible for coal to fight his corner. He may not wish to do so publicly tonight, but I certainly expect him to do it in future.

I urge all my hon. Friends to join me in voting against the Bill, because it is a thoroughly bad Bill with thoroughly bad intentions.

9.52 pm

I shall try to be brief, because I know that hon. Members want to be away home. I know that we all expected a 10 o'clock vote but, unfortunately, some Conservative Members started filibustering.

We should look to see where all the investment to which hon. Members have referred is going. Some of it is going to close down mines, make miners redundant and put them on the dole. There is no doubt that the rest of it is going into the pits that will be left for privatisation. The Government are going to invest all that money in those pits to make them attractive to their friends in the City or to whoever may want to buy them. It has even been said that companies in South Africa are interested in buying British coal mines. No doubt we shall see that happening as time goes on.

Coal mined in Britain has declined to 35 million tonnes, whereas there has been an increase of 15 million tonnes in the opencast coal produced. We have heard what opencast mining does to the environment. I know what happens in my beautiful county of Northumberland; the place is dug up, and there are holes all over the place. It is an absolute disgrace, and the Government alone are responsible for that environmental destruction.

By the end of this year, 20 million tonnes of foreign coal are to be imported into Britain. That too is the responsibility of the Government. Rothschild said that he hoped that, by the end of 1993–94, there would be 20 mines left in Britain. He went further, saying that he hoped that only 14 or 15 might be left for privatisation. That is where the investment is going—it is going into the pits that are left. Rothschild suggests that, even in the north-east, which many years ago was the bedrock of the coal industry, there should be only one coal mine.

In the context of safety, I want to turn briefly to the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908. Much has been said about this subject. Many of my colleagues have worked in coal mines, and they and I have spoken with experience and with passion. From Conservative Members we have heard very little passionate comment about safety. They know absolutely nothing about mining safety. They think that a mine is a factory that can be turned on and off with a switch. People who have worked in the bowels of the earth know that a mine is the most unfriendly place imaginable. In such conditions, miners need their colleagues to help them to ensure that, at the end of a shift, they can come out unharmed. Longer hours will make miners more vulnerable to accidents. Indeed, most accidents happen towards the end of a shift.

Some whippersnapper drummed up by the Government has said that, if miners were to work shifts of nine or 10 hours, there could be a productivity increase of 39 per cent. That is typical of people who sit with a pen in one hand and a calculator in the other. Having worked in the mines for 27 years, including 14 years at the coal face, I know that, after six hours underground, a miner is not a pretty sight. It is ridiculous to think of expecting a miner to work another two or three hours, with the possibility of two additional hours' overtime.

Let us remember the conditions in which miners work. I am thinking of the dust, the water and the noise. We have heard nothing about noise, yet it is a very serious problem. In the confined space of a pit, the noise of a machine is deafening. Indeed, I received compensation for deafness caused by my 27 years in the pits. Yet under this legislation, miners would be expected to work longer hours.

We may expect tough European Community legislation. I want Conservative Members to realise what is at stake for the British miner, and I want the British miner to understand what the Government intend to impose on him. Let hon. Members consider these figures: six 10-hour shifts per week, with three weeks on and one week off; four 12-hour shifts per week, with three weeks on and one week off; six 10-hour shifts per week, with two weeks on and one week off. I am willing to bet that, when a miner has worked 10 hours a day for three weeks, the pit manager—it will be a private pit—will ask him to work during what should be his week off.

That is what is in store for the miner. There will be no week off; he will be working all the time, and there will be more accidents. If the Conservatives are returned to power—God forbid—we shall be here to point the finger at them.

9.58 pm

The Opposition do not need to apologise for delaying the House with a Division when we are discussing an industry that is part and parcel of the fabric of the societies that we represent. It is not only a question of jobs or economics; the coal industry is part of the character and social make-up of our societies.

I bring to the Minister's attention the fear of my community that, unless the attitude and approach of both British Coal and the Government change, there will no longer be deep mining in south Wales. That is incredible in a community that is synonymous with mining and in a society with a background centred on mining. I repeat that unless attitudes change, south Wales will no longer have a deep mining industry.

That is best illustrated by the problems faced by the one and only pit that I now represent. I vividly recall——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered,

That, at this day's sitting, the Coal Industry Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Wood.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I vividly recall a meeting just before the 1987 election with the then Secretary of State for Energy, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who told a group of Welsh Members of parliament that the restructuring of the Welsh coalfield was virtually over, although one or two pits might close in the future because their reserves were exhausted. Four years and one Parliament later, the four pits that used to exist in my constituency have been reduced to one.

Deep worry and concern ran through my community this Christmas at the thought that even that one pit might be jeopardised. Those fears were due to British Coal's announcement of changes to its redundancy terms. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will tell the House whether he knew at any point during the Bill's passage through the House—after all, it is about giving money for redundancies—that British Coal would change the terms on a whim and without notice just before Christmas. The announcement that the £10,000 supplement would be withdrawn led to worry and concern that a ploy that had been used before would lead to the premature closure of the Taff Merthyr colliery. I hope that we have managed to stabilise the position and to demonstrate that that is not the case.

What has happened at the Taff Merthyr colliery is an example of the way in which the industry has been affected by the pathetic and myopic attitudes of British Coal and the Government. A tapestry in an office at Taff Merthyr marks the fact that that colliery has the most successful production record of recent years. Last year that pit made more than £4 million profit. This year, because it is now a one-face pit, and has had problems, it could lose about half that amount. What is really worrying is the unbelievably short-sighted attitude towards the industry that has emerged in the past two or three years and the belief that if a pit does not balance on a weekly or monthly basis, it will face closure. No RTZ, Shell or any other major mining company treats its extractive industry or mineral development in such a myopic and short-term fashion.

In addition, the senior management of British Coal are indifferent and distant. The National Coal Board used to be very much part of our community. The people who managed the pits were accessible to those who worked in the industry because they understood the impact that their decisions might have. However, the industry is now managed at its most senior level by people who come, who close and who go. That has been the pattern.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) gave an account of the way in which the west Wales anthracite coalfield is now run from Nottingham. We are not even allowed to keep the records of our industry in south Wales. British Coal is now moving all the industry's records to an office in the middle of England. Those records are important not only for compensation or mining subsidence claims, but because they are part of the heritage of the south Wales mining communities.

Pleas made to the Minister—I have written to him about this—and to the Secretary of State for Wales by everybody in south Wales who is interested in the industry have been totally ignored. The management of the industry have gone, so now they are taking away our heritage and our records. It is little wonder that growing bitterness and resentment are felt about modern management. There is no reason why Taff Merthyr or the anthracite coalfield of west Wales could not be developed. There is no reason why we should be facing the total closure of the industry.

The Act of Parliament which established the National Coal Board, now British Coal, placed upon the board a statutory duty to win coal. There is coal to be won. There are reserves in south Wales which could create jobs and provide vital energy sources. The Government and the present management of British Coal are not fulfilling that statutory duty. I hope and pray that soon we will have a change of Government and with it a change of policy.

10.5 pm

The House has probably witnessed the last debate on the future of the British coal industry before the general election. At all levels within the industry, many people believe that the election will be as important for the future of the industry as was the general election of 1945. It will effectively decide whether the country will keep that national asset or whether it will be run down rapidly after the election, having been turned over to people with economic reasons to dispose of it for short-term gain.

Many of the speeches have dwelt on how the industry has been mismanaged for a long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) talked about the workshops. I have a constituency interest as well. The thousands of jobs connected with mine support services will disappear if pit closures continue at the same rate as over the past five years, because there will be nobody for them to service.

We have heard how the industry has been treated in south Wales. The immediate prospects are not good. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) talked about pre-election fixes. I was with him when we were told by the CEGB that West Burton B power station would be built and would keep jobs in the midland coalfields. Before the last general election, my hon. Friend rightly predicted what would happen. I hope that people working in the midlands coalfields will remember when the general election takes place what happened a few months later.

The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) seemed to believe what he was saying. I do not know the medical term, but his is a sad case.

One thing he said will be interesting to many people in his constituency. When we discussed the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991, I thought that there would be co-operation between the parties to sort out the problems. The hon. Gentleman said that our pressure for amendments created an even greater burden on the coal industry. We wanted to stop British Coal being the judge and jury on what happens when it creates damage to thousands of homes, including many in his constituency. The people whose property has been damaged will be interested to know that he believes that it is a burden on the coal industry to put right that damage.

No doubt his constituents will also be pleased to hear that the hon. Member believes that opencast coal mining can make an enormous contribution. I thought that his constituents, like people in neighbouring constituencies, do not like the idea of the countryside being ripped up by opencast mining to produce coal for him and some of his hon. Friends.

The Bill is extraordinary. Under clause 2, we are asked to allow the Secretary of State to repeal a safety and health measure when he chooses, although he is putting nothing in its place.

The Secretary of State for Energy tells us that the EC directive on working time will take the place of the 1908 Act. The Secretary of State for Employment tells us that the EC directive on working time Sis unacceptable. Presumably he means that it is unacceptable for everyone except mineworkers. But the EC directive is not mentioned in the Bill and has not been debated in the House in relation to the coal industry. It has not been discussed with the two sides of the industry, despite repeated recommendations to that effect from the Select Committee and elsewhere. The Government ask us to carry the measure through without any consultation with people inside the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) pointed out that he was given a promise from the Dispatch Box in 1988 by the then Secretary of State. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said that we were being asked to repeal the 1908 Act without maintaining the current protection for the British coal industry.

We could never agree without consultation and agreement to any changes to legislation that was introduced on safety and health grounds. That is the only way to ensure that people who work in a dangerous environment have confidence in the regulations that protect them. It is a great pity that the Secretary of State has ratted on promises made in the House by previous Secretaries of State.

In Committee, we moved amendments to prevent British Coal from abusing the new colliery review procedure that was introduced when the massive closure programme began in 1984–85 and caused such social disruption. In July 1989, a complaint was made to the independent review body by the National Union of Mineworkers that British Coal was undermining the review by making enhanced redundancy payments until set dates, after which the payments were drastically reduced.

The complaint referred specifically to events surrounding the closure of Barnburgh colliery in South Yorkshire. British Coal management had set deadlines for the ending of redundancy payments. It wrote to the work force saying that, if workers did not accept redundancy and stop the appeal procedure, their payments would be prejudiced. The case went to the independent review body which consisted at that time of three eminent QCs. It was chaired by Anthony Diamond, QC, and its report concluded:
"It follows from this that we take the view that the apparent change in dates affecting the eligibility to enhanced redundancy did interfere with the IRB procedure. If this were to occur again it would undermine our function as an Independent Review Body and thus put the whole review procedure in jeopardy. Should a similar situation occcur again we can see no reason why British Coal should not suspend the operation of the scheme during the period between the IRB reference and decision for the colliery concerned."
The amendments that we tabled in Committee were not supported by Conservative Members, who keep telling us that they are the friends of the miners. Those amendments would have ensured that any work force could put their pit into the review procedure without risking any part of their redundancy payments. I moved those amendments on 3 December last year. I accused the British Coal Corporation of using the restructuring grants to blackmail miners into closing pits by threatening their redundancy payments.

The Minister assured us that our amendments were not necessary. Within two weeks, British Coal told the mining unions that, with effect from 31 March 1992, it would stop the top-up payments of up to £10,000 to miners who were made redundant. That is the truth of the matter. British Coal will now announce colliery closures and use the threat of stopping top-up payments to bludgeon every miner into accepting immediate closure. It has already done so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) explained, it happened just this week at Sherwood colliery in his constituency. Practically overnight, 800 jobs disappeared out of that economy. The men charged into a ballot and voted three to one to close a coal mine that should have closed in 14 months' time.

The Secretary of State has failed to address the implications of those actions of British Coal. They are clearly designed to put pressure on the work force at a threatened colliery to take the enhanced payments rather than put the pit into the review procedure. We are not arguing for less generous redundancy terms: we are arguing that they should not be used to pressure mineworkers into leaving the industry. It cannot be argued that there is not enough money to continue to pay the top-up, especially in view of the phenomenal amount of money made available under clause 1. It can only be in order to do the Government's bidding—that is what we believe it is about—and to reduce the industry for privatisation.

The Government are riding roughshod over agreed procedures, with one aim in mind. I and my hon. Friends not only believe that but know it. That aim is to deliver the Rothschild report scenario to the British coal mining industry. In Committee and elsewhere, the Minister has told us that the Rothschild report does not paint a picture of the future of the industry. He says that its size will be determined by the size of the contracts negotiated with the generators.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), in a good speech, described what was happening inside the British coal industry to the only person, in my knowledge, who has had many years' experience of negotiating contracts with generators—the current commercial director, Malcolm Edwards. Everyone knows what is happening to him. I noticed that those Conservative Members who know what is happening inside British Coal went very quiet and became subdued because of what is happening to him.

Malcolm Edwards does not agree with the Rothschild scenario, so he must go, whether he carries a Tory party card in his pocket or not, and whether he has been politically loyal to them or not. They do not want the industry to remain the size that it is now, and he is getting in their way.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, Mr. Edwards took the Secretary of State for Energy at his word when he said at the Dispatch Box that he wanted big contracts for the British coal industry. We know that that is not true. I wonder why the Government are paying Rothschilds for advice if they believe that it is up to the market and not to them, as they are saying. However, I agree that the generators will be the major determinants of the future of the industry.

Conservative Members who have spoken in the debate should realise, including the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—I shall comment on that in a minute. Unfortunately, the best that I could say about the speech of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) is that it was entertaining.

As regards the Nottinghamshire trio—the hon. Members for Newark (Mr. Alexander), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart)—they will be known as the Three Stooges of the debate. We do not believe for one minute that they think that the Government, if they remain in office, will keep coal mining at anything like the level that it is at now.

The hon. Member for New Forest used the argument about the 1960s and how many pits closed then.

Yes, under a Labour Government.

The British Coal industry—the great national asset that my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) said had such a good record in supporting the British economy, as it certainly has—has fought world wars for the British economy. That industry did well. In the 1960s, it closed down because people decided that the middle east was a better bet. Oil was brought into this country by different Governments and that closed it down.

The industry did not deserve it. The industry has closed down because of nuclear power, although that is not the best thing that ever happened to us, as we are finding out in the cost of our electricity bills every quarter. However, under a Labour Government, it has never closed down because of foreign coal coming into the country to replace British coal, and every Conservative Member will be defeated because of that. It has never closed down because of competing coal from elsewhere.

The Government will have to answer to the nation for that, if we ever again face the scenario of increases in world energy prices. Conservative Members will answer for that, and some will answer long before then. That is the truth of the matter. Conservative Members should not make accusations that we have ever sold out the coal industry to foreign coal coming into the country, because we have not. I shall stand the rest of the criticism, as we all must do.

I agree with the Rothschild report that the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Yes—I agree that the Government must play a role in getting the contracts between generators and British Coal sorted out. I am pleased to say that British Coal believes that the Government should do so. The director of public relations sent a paper to me just after Christmas, which was quoted earlier. I do not know which quote was used, because I had to leave the Chamber for a short while. The director says:
"We need the support of Government to ensure that the dominant position of the generators is properly regulated rather than abused, and that the outcome of the contract negotiations is decided on genuine and not spurious economic grounds."
Will the Government take the advice of the Rothschild report? Will they support the British coal industry in ensuring that we get the biggest contracts possible, or will they continue to pay lip service to their commitment to the industry while everything else they do undermines its future?

Coal has been backed out of the market by an uneconomic alternative. The electricity industry acknowledges that new gas burn is more expensive than electricity from coal-fired stations. The Secretary of State carries on giving permission for more gas-fired power stations. If all those stations come on stream, more than half the electricity market will be pre-empted by the costly fuels of gas and nuclear.

The Government's actions speak far louder than their words. They are not only prepared to see the continual contraction of the industry: they actively promote it. Not only will they not support the British coal industry, but they do not appear to want anyone else to support it.

From a press report that I read in the Yorkshire Post just after Christmas, it seems that the Secretary of State has written to the European Energy Commissioner complaining that the Commissioner has said that the British coal industry should not carry on with its closure programme because its coal is the cheapest deep-mined coal in the European Community. According to the press report, the Secretary of State said that the Commission should close a few of the German coal mines, which are far more expensive. I suppose that we have to give him nine out of 10 for consistency. He wants to close not only pits in this country, but pits in west Germany as well.

The Secretary of State misses the mark. We have not had an advocate in government who promotes the sale of British coal in Europe or even wider. The tragedy is that our industry is the most competitive European deep-mined coal producer, yet it has no one in the Government to sell its wares abroad. I am pleased to say that that will alter in a few weeks' time.

It is about time that the Government gave us some straight answers about their plans for the industry's future.

No one believes that the Government or British Coal do not know how many jobs they will get rid of from the British coal industry. They must know, because they need to put a figure on the money specified in clause 1. It is about time that they called a halt to the mounting uncertainty in the industry caused by their actions and the actions of senior management.

Many Conservative Members should have some sympathy with the uncertainty and job insecurity that mineworkers face because quite a few of them, perhaps 100—even The Daily Telegraph talks of at least 60—will be made redundant in the not too distant future. It could have happened to some of them last June, as they must know. It could have happened in October, and it may happen in April, May or June this year. They will be made redundant whenever their senior management—those hon. Members sit smiling—the decision-maker and the man who is running the campaign decide that they have the bottle to call the election. Those hon. Members know that the country will give them their cards.

We do not support getting rid of the 1908 Act when we do not know what will take its place. If it is right that Germany and other European Community coal industries have limits on their hours of work which are about the same as ours are now, it is right that we should have such limits. Consultation should take place to fix the hours in the different industry which we shall have at the turn of the century. We do not disagree with that, but we do not accept the lack of consultation.

We will not accept any further reduction in our great national asset, the British coal industry. As the European Commission and everyone else says, the reductions have gone on for far too long, and the cuts are too deep. The industry should be saved. For the sake of the coal industry, when the general election comes, Labour Members will move to the Government Benches, and our great national asset will serve this country as it has done for more than 150 years.

10.24 pm

I rise to answer one or two points raised in this debate, which has been characterised by a number of flights of fancy on the Opposition Benches, one of which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Bother Valley (Mr. Barron). We have also had a number of moments of reality, one of which was supplied by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson), who made an interesting speech illustrated by recollections of the House some 25 years ago.

It is true to say that, when one reads debates of that time and earlier, certain issues are continually repeated. The coal industry has been under pressure and in some difficulty ever since coal production peaked in 1913. Every year since then the industry has faced market contractions and has had to fight for market share. As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest pointed out, there have been periods of comparative stability and periods of decline, and one of the most marked periods of decline was between 1964 and 1970 when, under a Labour Government, nearly 280 pits shut.

The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) intervened in my hon. Friend's speech to point out that they were small pits and therefore it did not really matter; but that was not much consolation to the 170,000 miners who were not redeployed into larger pits and who all lost their jobs during those years of Labour government, despite all the good intentions. The difference is that the generous redundancy payments now available were not available to pay men displaced during those years.

A central part of this Bill is to retain and extend the restructuring grants essential to keep those redundancy payments and to make them available. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) was absolutely right to express amazement that the Labour party will this evening vote against a Bill that seeks to underpin and continue the availability of redundancy payments which are acknowledged to be among the most generous in British industry, and also to keep in being grants available to transfer miners to other collieries, and money for retraining, for employment advice and for the activities of British Coal Enterprise.

Labour will vote against all those things this evening. That is a direct threat to the level of redundancy payments available, and to the retraining and advice centres which we have set up. Miners should be aware of that and realise what they could face if ever there was to be a future Labour Government who were able to end the grants and provisions that we are continuing this evening.

From the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) we had the usual bluster. He has in the past, I know, promised to maintain the size of the coal industry at its present level, and earlier this evening he spoke against imports, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley. What he did not say was how he would do this, given the Labour party's new-found enthusiasm for the single market in Europe later this year and for the GATT provisions. How is the Labour party to keep out imports? This is surely another example of Labour coal policy being long on promises and short on substance.

The Minister should perhaps be aware that the European Energy Commissioner has made it clear to British MEPs that, within GATT and within the treaty of Rome, it is possible for Britain to stop coal imports.

No such assurances have been given, and all the advice that we have received is that that is flatly contradictory to the treaty of Rome and the GATT provisions.

A much more impressive contribution was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). He does a far better job of representing coal mining constituents by facing up to and meeting the inescapable difficulties faced by the coal industry. Those difficulties would persist whether the industry was in private hands or publicly owned under a Labour or Conservative Government.

We do not run down the British coal industry by relishing the most gloomy predictions about the future. We know that the size of the industry will be set not by blueprints produced in Whitehall or anywhere else, but by the success of that industry.

We know that the coal market of the future may well be smaller than that of the past. However, it will still be important and it can be supplied by British Coal. That market will not be protected by phoney reference prices, impossible import bans or by closing down alternative means of electricity generation. It will be protected by making British Coal even more productive and efficient. It will then be able to fight for, and win, a larger share of the British energy market.

We will maintain and even improve on the safety record of the coal industry. My hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) rightly said that the safety record of the industry is one of which we can be proud. The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 is not relevant to the maintenance or improvement of that record.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) asked why my Department rather than the Department of Employment is responsible for the repeal of the 1908 Act. That Act is not relevant to the safety provisions included in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That is not just our opinion but that of the Health and Safety Commission. In Committee we knew that, according to the Health and Safety Executive, safety underground did not depend upon keeping the 1908 Act on the statute book. We have had the same opinion from the HSC. The House is aware that there is a substantial trade union representation on the commission.

The chairman of the commission has written to me and I shall place a copy of his letter in the Library. He said that hours of work are an industrial relations matter to be regulated by agreement between the employers and the trade unions. He also said:
"taking account of all relevant factors, the Bill's proposals are unlikely to lead to a reduction in standards of health and safety."

Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that the hours of work are not a matter for the Secretary of State for Employment?

I was answering the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point about why it was that the repeal of the 1908 Act was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

The letter from the HSC also explained why the repeal of the 1908 Act will not be to the detriment of health and safety underground. It is our view, and certainly that of the HSC, that excessive hours worked in any industry can, in certain situations, lead to reduced safety standards. That is why the Health and Safety Executive will be alert to any excessive working hours underground or anywhere else. That reinforces our view that the maintenance of safety underground should not rely on an outmoded Edwardian Act of Parliament. It should rely on tailormade legislation which is designed to ensure safety and which is independently enforced by the HSE.

Labour policy as enumerated this evening is, on the other hand, curious. It was recognised in the Standing Committee that the 1908 Act was not being observed, and there are many quotes in the Official Report to that effect. Labour knows that enforcement of that Act would jeopardise the earnings and future of certain collieries, yet it still wants to keep it on the statute book. That is a curious attitude to legislation, and it should be known by a more general and wider audience.

The Labour party believes that laws are made not necessarily to be obeyed but rather to be negotiating tools for trade unions or any other group. The 1908 Act is obsolete. It has been overtaken by events, changed circumstances and other legislation. That is why we shall repeal it when we bring forward alternative measures, and it will be done without putting safety underground at risk. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided:Ayes 307, Noes 209.

Division No. 38]

[10.35 pm

AYES

Adley, RobertDevlin, Tim
Aitken, JonathanDickens, Geoffrey
Alexander, RichardDicks, Terry
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Amos, AlanDover, Den
Arbuthnot, JamesDunn, Bob
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Durant, Sir Anthony
Ashby, DavidDykes, Hugh
Aspinwall, JackEggar, Tim
Atkins, RobertEvans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Atkinson, DavidEvennett, David
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Fallon, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Farr, Sir John
Baldry, TonyFavell, Tony
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fenner, Dame Peggy
Batiste, SpencerField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Beggs, RoyFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bellingham, HenryFishburn, John Dudley
Bendall, VivianFookes, Dame Janet
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Forman, Nigel
Benyon, W.Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bevan, David GilroyForth, Eric
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFox, Sir Marcus
Blackburn, Dr John G.Franks, Cecil
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFreeman, Roger
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFrench, Douglas
Boscawen, Hon RobertFry, Peter
Boswell, TimGale, Roger
Bottomley, PeterGardiner, Sir George
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bowis, JohnGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesGoodhart, Sir Philip
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGoodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brazier, JulianGorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright, GrahamGorst, John
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Budgen, NicholasGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Burns, SimonGregory, Conal
Burt, AlistairGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Butler, ChrisGrist, Ian
Butterfill, JohnGround, Patrick
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Grylls, Sir Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hague, William
Carrington, MatthewHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carttiss, MichaelHampson, Dr Keith
Cash, WilliamHanley, Jeremy
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs LyndaHannam, Sir John
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Chapman, SydneyHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Chope, ChristopherHarris, David
Churchill, MrHaselhurst, Alan
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)Hawkins, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hayes, Jerry
Clark, Rt Hon Sir WilliamHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushclifle)Hayward, Robert
Colvin, MichaelHeathcoat-Amory, David
Conway, DerekHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Cormack, PatrickHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Couchman, JamesHill, James
Cran, JamesHind, Kenneth
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Hordern, Sir Peter
Davis, David (Boothferry)Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Day, StephenHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)

Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Oppenheim, Phillip
Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyPage, Richard
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Paice, James
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Patnick, Irvine
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hunt, Rt Hon DavidPatten, Rt Hon John
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunter, AndrewPawsey, James
Irvine, MichaelPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jack, MichaelPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jackson, RobertPorter, David (Waveney)
Janman, TimPortillo, Michael
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyPowell, William (Corby)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Price, Sir David
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Rathbone, Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRedwood, John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Key, RobertRhodes James, Sir Robert
Kilfedder, JamesRiddick, Graham
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Kirkhope, TimothyRoberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Knapman, RogerRoe, Mrs Marion
Knight, Greg (Derby North)Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Rost, Peter
Knowles, MichaelRowe, Andrew
Knox, DavidRumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanSackville, Hon Tom
Lang, Rt Hon IanSainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Latham, MichaelShaw, David (Dover)
Lawrence, IvanShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lee, John (Pendle)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Shelton, Sir William
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Shersby, Michael
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Sims, Roger
Lord, MichaelSkeet, Sir Trevor
Luce, Rt Hon Sir RichardSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSoames, Hon Nicholas
Macfarlane, Sir NeilSpeller, Tony
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maclean, DavidSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McLoughlin, PatrickSquire, Robin
McNair-Wilson, Sir MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Madel, DavidSteen, Anthony
Malins, HumfreyStevens, Lewis
Mans, KeithStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Maples, JohnStokes, Sir John
Marland, PaulSumberg, David
Marlow, TonySummerson, Hugo
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maude, Hon FrancisTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mawhinney, Dr BrianThompson, Sir D. (Cldr Vly)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Sir RobinThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickThorne, Neil
Mellor, Rt Hon DavidThurnham, Peter
Mills, IainTownend, John (Bridlington)
Miscampbell, NormanTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Tracey, Richard
Moate, RogerTredinnick, David
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesTrippier, David
Monro, Sir HectorTrotter, Neville
Montgomery, Sir FergusTwinn, Dr Ian
Morris, M (N'hampton S)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Moss, MalcolmViggers, Peter
Moynihan, Hon ColinWakeham, Rt Hon John
Neale, Sir GerrardWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Nelson, AnthonyWaller, Gary
Neubert, Sir MichaelWalters, Sir Dennis
Newton, Rt Hon TonyWard, John
Nicholls, PatrickWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Warren, Kenneth
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Watts, John
Norris, SteveWells, Bowen
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyWheeler, Sir John

Whitney, RayWoodcock, Dr. Mike
Widdecombe, AnnYeo, Tim
Wiggin, JerryYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann

Tellers for the Ayes:

Winterton, Nicholas

Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. John M. Taylor.

Wolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy

NOES

Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.)Galloway, George
Allen, GrahamGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Anderson, DonaldGarrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Armstrong, HilaryGolding, Mrs Llin
Ashley, Rt Hon JackGordon, Mildred
Ashton, JoeGould, Bryan
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Graham, Thomas
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Barron, KevinGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Battle, JohnGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Beckett, MargaretGrocott, Bruce
Beith, A. J.Hain, Peter
Bell, StuartHardy, Peter
Bellotti, DavidHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Benn, Rt Hon TonyHaynes, Frank
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Bermingham, GeraldHinchliffe, David
Bidwell, SydneyHoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Blunkett, DavidHome Robertson, John
Boateng, PaulHood, Jimmy
Boyes, RolandHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Bradley, KeithHowells, Geraint
Bray, Dr JeremyHowells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Hoyle, Doug
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Caborn, RichardHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Callaghan, JimIngram, Adam
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Johnston, Sir Russell
Canavan, DennisJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Carr, MichaelKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cartwright, JohnKilfoyle, Peter
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Kirkwood, Archy
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Clelland, DavidLambie, David
Clwyd, Mrs AnnLamond, James
Cohen, HarryLeadbitter, Ted
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Leighton, Ron
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Lewis, Terry
Cousins, JimLitherland, Robert
Cox, TomLivingstone, Ken
Crowther, StanLivsey, Richard
Cryer, BobLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cunliffe, LawrenceLofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunningham, Dr JohnLoyden, Eddie
Dalyell, TarnMcAllion, John
Darling, AlistairMcAvoy, Thomas
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)McCartney, Ian
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Macdonald, Calum A.
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)McFall, John
Dewar, DonaldMcKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dixon, DonMcKelvey, William
Dobson, FrankMcLeish, Henry
Doran, FrankMcMaster, Gordon
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMcNamara, Kevin
Eadie, AlexanderMcWilliam, John
Enright, DerekMadden, Max
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Marek, Dr John
Fatchett, DerekMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Faulds, AndrewMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Fearn, RonaldMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Martlew, Eric
Flannery, MartinMaxton, John
Flynn, PaulMeacher, Michael
Foster, DerekMeale, Alan
Fraser, JohnMichael, Alun
Fyfe, MariaMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Skinner, Dennis
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Moonie, Dr LewisSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Morgan, RhodriSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Morley, ElliotSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Snape, Peter
Mowlam, MarjorieSoley, Clive
Mullin, ChrisSpearing, Nigel
Murphy, PaulSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Nellist, DaveSteinberg, Gerry
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonStephen, Nicol
O'Brien, WilliamStott, Roger
O'Hara, EdwardStrang, Gavin
O'Neill, MartinStraw, Jack
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Prescott, JohnThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Primarolo, DawnTurner, Dennis
Radice, GilesWallace, James
Redmond, MartinWalley, Joan
Rees, Rt Hon MerlynWareing, Robert N.
Reid, Dr JohnWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Robertson, GeorgeWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Robinson, GeoffreyWigley, Dafydd
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Rogers, AllanWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Rooker, JeffWilson, Brian
Rooney, TerenceWinnick, David
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Rowlands, TedWorthington, Tony
Ruddock, JoanWray, Jimmy
Salmond, AlexYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert

Tellers for the Noes:

Shore, Rt Hon Peter

Mr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Eric Illsley.

Short, Clare

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Ways And Means

Stamp Duty (Relief)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the following provisions shall have effect for the period beginning 16th January 1992 and ending 31 days after the earliest of the dates mentioned in section 50(2) of the Finance Act 1973—

  • (1) In relation to instruments to which this Resolution applies, section 55 of the Finance Act 1963 (rate of stamp duty on conveyance or transfer on sale) and section 4 of the Finance Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 (equivalent provision for Northern Ireland) shall have effect as if—
  • (a) each reference to £30,000 in subsection (1) of each of those sections were to £250,000, and
  • (b) the reference to £300 in subsection (2) of each of those sections were to £2,500.
  • (2) This Resolution applies to—
  • (a) instruments executed on or after 20th December 1991 and before 16th January 1992 and not stamped before 16th January 1992;
  • (b) instruments executed on or after 16th January 1992 and before 20th August 1992.
  • (3) For the purpose of section 14(4) of the Stamp Act 1891 (instruments not to be given in evidence etc. unless stamped in accordance with the law in force at the time of first execution) the law in force at the time of execution of an instrument falling within paragraph 82)(a) above shall be deemed to be that as varied in accordance with paragraph (1) above.
  • And it is hereby declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of section 50 of the Finance Act 1973.— [Mr. Maude.]

    10.50 pm

    The measure is before the House for the simple reason that a general election is in the offing and the Government are rattled. The measure is to be followed next week by a Bill. If a general election were not to be held in the next four months, the Government would have shed crocodile tears and Ministers and the Prime Minister himself at Prime Minister's Question Time would have said that nothing could be done about house repossessions. They would have said that citizens whose houses had been repossessed—and that will continue throughout 1992—knew perfectly well that interest rates could go up or down, that they freely entered into a contract and that it was no part of the Government's function to bail them out.

    Because of the impending election there are no crocodile tears and no statements that the Government cannot interfere. They are attempting to take action, and I should like to examine it to see whether it will be effective and whether the money resolution and the Bill—which it is rumoured will be before the House next week—are worth serious consideration.

    In 1986, when the Prime Minister was a Social Security Minister, he cut mortgage support for those who had lost their jobs. The Tory election guide of 1987 boasted that the Prime Minister reduced the entitlement of those on income support to have their mortgage interest repayments cut from 100 to 50 per cent. for the first six months. Four years ago not only were they not prepared to help but cut state support for those who were losing their houses—and boasted and believed that that was a virtue.

    The measure shows a reversal of Government policy but it is not the only reversal because only a few years ago the Government withdrew 40 per cent. mortgage interest relief and introduced legislation permitting relief to be claimed only at the basic rate. The Opposition agreed with that. In that matter as in this, the Government's philosophy was separation of Government from the operations of the market. That is no longer the case because by their proposal to waive stamp duty for eight months until August the Government are intervening in the market. That runs counter to their political philosophy.

    We shall debate the matter again next week and perhaps either tonight or at that time the Minister will tell us what has changed. Has the Conservative party suddenly found a heart and a social conscience? Has it abandoned its political dogma or are the Government acting in this way because they know that there must be a general election within the next four months and are fishing for votes by using election gimmicks?

    I cannot imagine anyone doing that.