Package angers Labour MPs

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The Independent Online
LABOUR MPs from mining areas reacted with fury in the Commons as Michael Hesel tine's statement on pit closures confirmed that thousands of their constituents would lose their jobs in the next six months.

The President of the Board of Trade was accused of being 'gutless', a confidence trickster and a failure in the course of two hours of emotional exchanges. Richard Caborn, Labour chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, which examined pit prospects, said Mr Heseltine's package was 'merely a change of tactics'.

Complaining at the short time available to MPs to digest the 152-page White Paper before it is debated next Monday, Mr Cab orn said his quick analysis was that all 31 of the pits earmarked for closure last October would be closed in four years time, costing the taxpayer pounds 2bn. This year 18 pits would be closed and 18,300 jobs lost.

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, said the package was 'not a rescue plan . . . only a stay of execution'. The period of two years over which Mr Heseltine is prepared to subsidise extra contracts secured by British Coal had nothing to do with turning round pits and 'everything to do with his timetable to privatise the coal industry and wash his hands of it'.

Mr Cook asked how he could claim to have saved 12 pits when he had failed to find a market for additional coal. 'His negotiating skills have delivered a bargain in which he has provided a subsidy on the coal to the generators without getting them to agree one extra ton of coal.

'This mix of short-term subsidy and long-term betrayal may be enough to buy off the rebels on his own benches. It will not buy off the nation, who will not forgive this government for abandoning Europe's richest coal reserves.'

Winston Churchill, Tory MP for Davyhulme, who had threatened to vote against the Government if not enough pits were saved, thanked Mr Heseltine for the 'considerable distance' he had travelled since October.

But another rebel, Richard Alexander, MP for Newark, said the closures would cause 'devastation' in north Nottinghamshire, particularly Bevercotes, where 500 of his constituents would be out of work.

William O'Brien, Labour MP for Normanton, accused Mr Heseltine of delivering a 'stab in the back' to 700 Sharlston miners.

Malcolm Bruce, for the Liberal Democrats, condemned the plan as 'a short-term fix that does not meet the long-term needs of the nation'.

Elizabeth Peacock, Tory MP for Batley and Spen, asked if the White Paper provided a further market for coal. But Mr Heseltine told her: 'We are dealing with a market place, which is something you can analyse and predict but in the end you are dependent upon customers.'