THE COMMONS Trade and Industry Select Committee is to set up an urgent inquiry into the pit closures tomorrow, drawing on the report on electricity privatisation produced in February this year by its predecessor, the select committee on energy.
That report had warned of 'the doubtful economics of replacing existing coal-fired stations with new gas-fired ones', Dick Caborn, the industry committee's chairman, pointed out yesterday.
Mr Caborn, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said the inquiry could look across the board, not just at the pit closures. With Conservative members including Dr Michael Clark, former chairman of the energy select committee and a fierce critic of the pit closures, ministers are likely to face a fierce inquisition over the assertions that the economics of electricity generation go against coal.
Last February's report concluded that even with flue-cleaning technology to cut down sulphur emissions, existing large coal-fired power stations using British coal were competitive with new gas-fired stations.
Electricity consumers, it concluded, 'will gain little or nothing from a precipitate rundown of the British coal industry' and any premium for preserving 'a substantial indigenous coal industry offering secure supplies at stable prices' was 'relatively small'.
Mr Caborn said yesterday that all Mr Heseltine's statement had done was 'endorse the closures. That's not good enough. We want the whole issue reopened'.
Labour was remaining carefully silent about tactics should it defeat the Government on Wednesday. The party's front bench appears to be in no rush to follow up such a defeat with a no confidence motion.
It argues that a Labour-inspired no confidence vote would serve only to unite the Tories.