Politics: Redwood takes up arms for coal

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The Independent Online
The beleaguered coal industry was yesterday championed by John Redwood, the Tory trade and industry spokesman. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on an alleged dash for gas.

A suggestion that BP "jumped the queue" with its bid to open a gas- fired power station at Saltend, near Hull, was pursued in a series of Commons questions tabled by John Redwood yesterday.

The Conservative trade and industry spokesman's interest in BP's activities was sharpened by his summer campaign to get Lord Simon, former chairman of BP and now a trade and industry minister, to divest himself of his BP shareholding.

In Commons questions yesterday, he picked up a suggestion made by RJB Mining, the coal group, that BP had seemed to jump a queue of 27 applicants waiting to build power stations.

RJB objected to the BP proposal because coal-fired stations require about 3-4 million tons a year of coal for each 1,000MW of electricity generated, and it naturally opposes the gas-fired option.

But the most remarkable element of a statement issued by Mr Redwood yesterday was the fact that a Thatcherite Conservative frontbencher was lobbying a Labour government on behalf of the coal industry.

Mr Redwood said the Government had come to power on promises to help the coal industry and to promote environmentally green policies. "Now it is finding it difficult to do both at the same time," he said.

"I want to know why it has licensed BP to build a 1,200MW gas station. Why BP, and not some of the other 27 applications that are sitting on ministers' desks? Is the Government worried that permission for this station could close another coal mine when it comes on stream, displacing coal- fired power? How many more stations will it license in the dash for gas?"

Mr Redwood, who has become the most aggressive member of William Hague's opposition team, also asked why Tony Blair was not meeting representatives of the mining unions and mining company managements - as he had met Formula One motor racing bosses.

Citing tobacco sponsorship of sport as an example of the way in which the Government reached decisions, Mr Redwood said that was not the only case of decisions being taken by too few people, without proper consultation, in a hurry, and not properly reported to parliament. "Energy policy is another such matter," he said. "The coal industry deserves a hearing."