British Coal's response to MPs 'lacks political will'

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BRITISH COAL lacks vision and drive, Richard Caborn, the chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, said yesterday. In an attack on the company's response to the committee's report on the coal industry, Mr Caborn said: 'British Coal's response is self-indulgent and over pessimistic. There appears to be no political will contained in the document itself.'

His comments follow British Coal's claim last week that the committee's recommendations would expand the market for coal by at best eight million tons - less than half the extra sales that the committee believes could be achieved. British Coal said that in the worst case, the proposals may not expand the market at all.

Industry sources say that eight million tons in extra sales would save only five or six of the 31 pits now threatened with closure. The select committee hopes that at least half of the mines at risk will be reprieved.

Speaking at a London seminar, Mr Caborn said: 'There seems to be no vision, no determination and no drive about the industry. If you ain't got the vision and the drive then please move over.'

'There seems to be a death knell in the industry . . . British Coal and all those in the industry should be recommending our proposals,' he said.

On Friday, British Coal said that the committee's report was a 'first-class' analysis of the problems facing the industry but said that key assumptions on which it is based are flawed. The company wants a radical change in the energy market - making room for more coal at the expense of gas- fired power and nuclear power. However, the select committee focused mainly on displacing coal imports and recommended cutting back opencast mines.

Earlier, Mr Caborn, the Labour MP for Sheffield Central, also attacked the widespread view that the Government, which is expected next week to publish a White Paper on energy, will not try to stem imports of electricity from France. These displace around six million or seven million tons of coal a year.

The Government could be liable to pay compensation if it meddles with the French link and could also run into problems with the European Commission. However, Mr Caborn argued: 'I do not see why we should be pumping electricity equivalent to seven million tons of coal into the UK, and on a totally unlevel playing field.'