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Coal Mining Safety

Volume 533: debated on Thursday 20 October 2011

3. What mechanism his Department has put in place to learn lessons on the safety of coal mining following recent deaths of miners. (75584)

All serious incidents at coal mines are investigated by the mines inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive. Fatal incidents are also investigated by the relevant local police force. I would like to take this opportunity to express again our sympathy, and I am sure the whole House will join me, to the families and colleagues of the victims of the recent incidents at Gleision and Kellingley collieries. I was able to visit Kellingley myself to see what was being done. The responsibility for implementing any recommendations in resulting reports lies with the Health and Safety Executive of the Department for Work and Pensions.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer and thank him for visiting Kellingley colliery with me. Given that 42% of electricity in the UK during last year’s freezing winter came from coal, what assurances can he give the 2,000 or so remaining coal miners about the role that coal will play in this country’s energy mix in future?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. This matter always arises when there are sad incidents of the kind that we have recorded. The Government are committed to ensuring that we can continue to use fossil-fuel power generation, not just in the short term to maintain our energy security, but in the longer term with carbon capture and storage. The challenge of decarbonising the next generation of coal-fired and gas-fired power stations is part of the carbon capture and storage programme. Yesterday, we announced the decision on Longannet. I would have very much liked to proceed with that project. However, that decision in no way undermines our commitment to the budget of £1 billion for carbon capture and storage, nor our belief that we can get a commercial project up and running within that budget—we will do so.

When the mines were publicly owned, there were safety committees at every single pit every month, manned by the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers and other appropriate unions. There were also mine inspectors, paid for by the union and the board, and unannounced inspections would take place. Now that we have a scattering of small mines employing very few people, what safety measures are in place? Are they parallel to what went before, and can the Secretary of State assure me that the mine rescuers in south Wales had all the necessary equipment available and ready to move when they had to go into that mine?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. This is an important issue, and he is absolutely right to highlight the potential difficulties now that the industry is smaller. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) insisted that we saw the NUM representatives when we visited Kellingley, for example, and their clear message was that they thought safety had been carefully respected in that incident. We need to keep under constant review safety at Gleision, Kellingley and the other collieries, and we will continue to do so.

As somebody who lived in the village of Rhos, may I ask the Secretary of State to join me in paying tribute to the local community for the way in which it pulled together during the tragic events at Gleision colliery? What subsequent discussions has he had with the Welsh Government about the future resourcing of the mines rescue service, considering that private mines are an expanding industry in the south Wales coalfield?

The mines rescue service is available throughout the UK, and in Gleision there were staff available from outside Wales who came in to help. That is absolutely appropriate, because in any particular case we do not know the scale of the situation.

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the local community. One of the most admirable features of coal mining communities has historically been their extraordinary solidarity when faced with such dangers.