Concessions fail to pacify Tories' backbench critics

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Indy Politics
TORY CRITICS of the threatened pit closures were only partly mollified by Michael Heseltine's concessions and throughout the debate continued to demand the inclusion in his review of the 10 pits due for early shutdown.

Elizabeth Peacock (C, Batley and Spen) said that unless the 10 were included she would vote against the Government. She told the House she was 'shocked and ashamed' that a Conservative government could have announced such a programme.

Dr Michael Clark (C, Rochford), former chairman of the now defunct Energy Select Committee, protested that ministers had misread the mood of the country. 'If the Government wants my support tonight it must have an open, public and published review of the industry,' he warned. 'It must state its energy policy and it must commit itself to clean coal technology and treat all 31 pits alike, not putting 10 of them to one side.'

To Labour cheers, he said: 'I can't vote for the Government's amendment unless all 31 pits are in it.

'I shall be voting tonight not against my own Government, if things don't change, but for the coal industry.'

Winston Churchill (C, Davyhulme) said of Mr Heseltine's announcement last week: 'In the 22 years I have been here I don't recall seeing any minister so misjudge the public mood. I opposed that decision and I shall continue to oppose that decision on social grounds, on economic grounds and on energy grounds. The brutality of that announcement consigning 30,000 miners and their families to the slagheap of unemployment at a time of the highest male unemployment in this country since the 1930s is something I find wholly unacceptable and so it has proved for the nation at large and for millions in the ranks of the Tory Party.'

Miners wanted jobs and a fair chance to compete, not charity, he said. The average pounds 22,000 redundancy offered would not help when they could not sell their pit village homes.

For the Liberal Democrats, Malcolm Bruce said: 'What we are looking for is an assessment of our entire energy strategy, not just the future of 31 coal mines.'

Mr Bruce (Gordon), said: 'If the Government is not prepared itself to look at the electricity market, it should refer the whole matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to explore the situation and if necessary come forward with additional legislation that can put it right.' He told Tory waverers that if they backed the Government in the vote they would 'live to regret it'. He said: 'If the Government were to be defeated today it would force a much more fundamental reappraisal of energy policy than we have yet had laid before us.'

A former Tory Secretary of State for Energy, David Howell (Guildford), said he believed the leak of the closure plans meant ministers had not had time to complete the 'major, really sensitive and elaborate programme for handling such a gigantic transformation' as they had intended. He called for the coal industry's future to be considered in the context of the British economy as a whole. Interest rate cuts were possible, with increased capital spending to safeguard jobs.

Labour's Geoff Hoon said Silverhill in his Ashfield constituency - among the 10 pits set for almost certain closure - was profitable. 'But how will any of the 10 prove they are economic in the next 90 days if they are not allowed to work?'

A former miner, Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), who went on yesterday's march, said he had never seen so much support for the miners as they passed through the Tory heartlands of Kensington and Chelsea. 'I have never seen so many people hanging out of their windows waving their support and shouting 'Good old Arthur Scargill'. It was an exhilarating new experience.'