MPs may see commercial secrets

THE HOUSE of Commons inquiry into pit closures is likely to be given access to commercially- sensitive information about power contracts, Michael Heseltine, the President of the Board of Trade, indicated yesterday.

He was setting out the formal terms of reference for the Government's energy review which, he said, will include consultation with the trade unions as well as the key providers and consumers of energy.

He said he would publish 'all evidence and the findings of the review to the fullest extent possible, except where information has been provided in confidence and is commercially sensitive'. But his written answer detailing the review's terms of reference added: 'I shall be discussing with the Trade and Industry Select Committee the means by which such confidential information might be made available to them'.

Richard Caborn, the committee's chairman, said that would be a key issue the committee would discuss with Mr Heseltine today at the first session of its inquiry. The committee remains determined that when its report is published there is no dispute with the Government over findings of fact.

Mr Heseltine also indicated that while John T Boyds, the international mining consultants, are to examine the viability of the 21 pits covered by the Government's review, the broader examination by outside consultants that he has promised of British Coal's prospects and competitiveness may be conducted by another firm. There has been criticism of the involvement of Boyds - who have already conducted one review of British Coal competitiveness - given that the firm is already advising the Government on coal privatisation.

The terms of reference underline the width of the Government's review, including the switch to gas and the implications of the statutory obligation on suppliers to buy nuclear power.